Ever since the night Renfield met Dracula, moviegoers have had an appetite for blood-sucking villains with class. And not since Bela Lugosi has a villain had more style and class than Anthony Hopkins' Hannibal Lecter. He quotes the classics. He's a patron of the arts. And his fangs are as acquainted with Bulugar caviar as with the soft, supple flesh of his victims. Hopkin's Lecter does not so much snarl as purr - whispering seductive innuendoes set to opera music - an approach matched only by Eden's subtle Serpent.
 This is much the same technique used by visualist Ridley Scott (Gladiator, BladeRunner). Scott's use of style over substance (or should I say "suspense") make Hannibal an exquisite sight to behold. In place of the psychological thrill-ride of the Jonathan Demme-directed The Silence of the Lambs, Scott's lush cinematography gives us a painterly blow-by-blow account of Hannibal. (You will need to avert your eyes from time to time.) His lens caresses Italy's most picturesque city where Lecter has been lying low for the past ten years. In Scott's misty Florence we find our villain holding court with art historians and connoisseurs. His office is the famed Uffizi - Michelangelo's David, his next-door neighbor. Hannibal's Tuscany flat has the sweep and haunting aura of Lugosi's classic castle. Here he sits at his antique grand piano bathed in golden candlelight, playing soothing concertos as he reads the newspapers' grizzly headlines.
 It seems according to the papers that FBI agent Clarice Starling (played this time by Julianne Moore) has been reassigned to his case. And rather than taking a powder, Hannibal renews his correspondence with her. This guy must want to get caught!
 The film, while gory, is rich with theological sub-themes. Agent Starling interviews Mason Verger, a faceless philanthropist with a vendetta to get Lecter. (Incidentally, when I say faceless, I mean faceless. It seems that years before Lecter suggestively cooed our deviant philanthropist into peeling off the flesh of his face). "It seemed like a good idea at the time," remarks Verger (played by Gary Oldman). After their interview, Verger makes a haunting observation. "Interesting," Verger notes "You had no problem looking at my disfigured face yet when I mentioned God you noticeably winced and changed the subject."
 Those who watch this movie intently will note that while the bad guy is a cannibal, he is by no means the only sinner in this film. An Italian police detective attempts to catch Lecter on his own. Why? Avarice, of course - there is a hefty reward. And for this deadly sin he is doomed to die. Hanged his bowels gushing out. Remind you of anybody you know? Can you say, "Judas Iscariot'?
 Clarice's hard-nosed supervisor Paul (Ray Liotta) can't keep his eyes off her shapely legs. Ah, his sin would be Lust. Gee, I guess the good guys aren't really all that good! Can you say, "Romans 3:23"? And for supervisor Paul's appetite Hannibal has just the dish. Don't ask.
 Also Agent Clarice has her own "issues." Lecter, who has had her number since the first film, makes some insightful observations. What drives this little backwoods country girl to be such an "achiever"? Is it her strong sense of right and wrong? Why no, it is her inner need to prove that she is more than "white trailer trash." And that would be the sin of Pride.
 The film actually does a good job of showing us that we are all sinners. Our differences are only those of degree. Hannibal in fact is the Christ figure in this bloodfest. Captured at the end of the film by Verger and his henchmen, Lecter is stretched out crucifix-like to meet his bloody doom. And by the very end of the movie Hannibal sacrifices himself for his beloved Clarice. Perhaps Mason Verger said it best in the movie: although we are all wicked, salvation is possible even for the most destitute of sinners. "I've been pardoned by the State and by the Risen Christ and nobody can beat the Riz."
Journal of Religion and Film 2001
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