Tag Archives: Dominic West

Hannibal Rising

Hannibal Rising posterBack in the mid to late 1980s Thomas Harris, Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Demme created an icon of horror/thriller cinema, Dr Hannibal Lecter, in the film version of Harris’ book Silence of the Lambs. While the part had been played arguably with more truth by Brian Cox in Michael Mann’s Manhunter and would swiftly become something of a pantomime villain/anti-hero in Hannibal and Red Dragon, Hopkins first take on the character remains mesmerising.

Why then, nearly 20 years later, Harris decided it would be a good idea to explore the background of Lecter is probably not much of a mystery as it was clear there was ‘gold in that there cannibal’, however as a character there was never a need.

Starting in Lithuania in the final days of the Second World War and then shifting to early 1950s France, Hannibal Rising fills us in on the troubled youth that created the ‘monstrous’ Lecter (we know he’s monstrous because they take the time to explain and state this in some detail).

Orphaned with his sister following a Soviet/Nazi micro-battle in a Lithuanian forest, the pair (children of a wealthy, castle owning, family) are taken hostage by mercenaries in the depths of the winter of 1944/45 and it’s not long before the mercenaries resort to cannibalism, eating the aforementioned young girl, before Hannibal is rescued and eventually (and surprisingly easily given post-war travel restrictions) ends up in France in his late teens, meeting his wealthy and exotic Japanese aunt, discovering an intense need for politeness, a love of sharp objects and enrolling in medical school.

Hannibal Rising - Gaspard Ulliel

Ulliel as Lecter

From there this becomes a pretty standard revenge story, Lecter has a special set of skills and he will find those who ate his sister and he will kill them.

I apologise if this feels like spoilers but, as is often a problem with prequels, there is little tension and mystery here as we come in knowing two things; one, that Hannibal is a murderer on a grand scale and two, that he survives at least as far as his 60s or 70s as seen in Lambs and Hannibal.

The fact of this being an effective thriller then is rendered impotent from the start.

So what of it as a horror, as it is also billed? Well, despite a few expectedly brutal but often somewhat over cooked (pun intended) murders, it’s not really very horrific. Any element of psychological horror that was Lecter’s initial raison d’être is absent and the violence really isn’t as graphic as one might expect. The camera, for the most part, cuts away from the actual truly horrific moments, though if shown they would have been simply revelling in blood and guts for the sake of it so it was a bit of a lose-lose.

Hannibal Rising - Gaspard Ulliel and Dominic West

Ulliel and West as Inspector Popil

Despite featuring a couple of actors who we know are or seem capable, none of the characters have the ring of truth and there really is no one to root for here. Hannibal, played by Gaspard Ulliel, is stuck between villain and anti-hero and lumbered with the same pantomimic ticks of Hopkins later performances making it very hard to accept him as the ‘good guy’.

Dominic West’s detective meanwhile, apparently investigating war crimes both general and specific, has nothing like enough depth to really even feel like a presence let alone a threat to Hannibal in the form of Will Graham or Jodie Foster’s Clarice Starling.

Then there’s the question of an antagonist. Who can stand up as worse than, or make us rally behind, a sociopathic, cannibalistic, mass murderer? Well the answer isn’t Rhys Ifans’ Lithuanian mercenary come French human trafficker with a range of dubious accents – unfortunately that’s all we get.

Hannibal Rising - Rhys Ifans and Gaspard Ulliel

Ifans as Vladis Grutas and Ulliel

As the film reaches its unbalanced and uninspired climax, with a few additional psychological quirks to try to complete the pointless picture of the creation of ‘Hannibal The Cannibal’ (as he doesn’t like to be called), Hannibal Rising almost entirely fails to be anything worth watching.

As Netflix offers the options of this or the Mads Mikkelsen staring TV series Hannibal I’d go with that choice as, despite being cancelled after only three seasons due to low ratings, it is far superior and the nearest thing to being anything as good as Silence of the Lambs or Manhunter you’re likely to find.

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Pride

Pride - movie posterIn the late 90s I remember going to the cinema to watch a film I found very funny and told a heart-warming story set against a backdrop of industrial and social strife – that film was The Full Monty and went on to huge international success.

Well now, following in its footsteps comes a film that combines many of the same elements with a streak of what certainly feels like more truth and honesty, Matthew Warchus’ Pride.

Set in the mid-1980s around the backdrop of ‘Thatcher’s Britain’, where social and industrial strife was rife, Pride starts out following Joe, aka Bromley (George MacKay), a young gay man coming to terms with his sexuality and attending his first pride parade. From there he becomes involved with the formation of a rights and fundraising group called Lesbians And Gays Support The Miners, a group from London raising money for the striking miners of South Wales with whom they see themselves sharing a common enemy and many common problems.

George MacKay and Faye Marsay - Pride

George MacKay and Faye Marsay

From there the movie looks at the attitudes the miners had to one of their most successful fundraising associations and takes a look into the turbulent world of gay life in the mid-80s and the lives of the striking miners, all in the form of a largely upbeat comedy-drama.

What sets this apart from many other similar movies is two things. First is the script that, despite having some totally fictional characters (Joe included) and clearly fictionalised situations, does a great job of getting to the heart and a sense of honesty about the situations portrayed.

Bill Nighy - Pride

Bill Nighy

Across the 120 minutes run time it doesn’t shy away from any of the issues surrounding any of the characters, so we see the violence and abuse directed at the gay characters and we hear about AIDS and see some of its responses and ramifications, while at the same time we see the situation the striking miners were in, portrayed more clearly than in any documentary I have seen, literally starving and freezing in their villages in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.

While this might sound all a bit serious Pride tackles all these issues with a remarkable good humour that is never disrespectful but does lead to some of the funniest human moments I’ve seen in a cinema in a long time and sums up, it seems to me, something of the attitude of the people involved.

Imelda Staunton and Dominic West - Pride

Imelda Staunton and Dominic West

This also sets off the more tragic moments brilliantly and there is one moment at the film’s conclusion that really hits home hard, despite the path being well signposted.

The second aspect that made the movie was the performances. Packed to the gills with well-known British ‘character actors’, people who you know you’ve seen on-screen a hundred times before and brand new faces everyone seems to be on top form. Bill Nighy is in fabulously understated mode as one of the elders of the Welsh village, Imelda Staunton in a similar position but in more boisterous form, the aforementioned MacKay astonishing as our guide into the story and Dominic West as one of the most real characters in the whole thing, Jonathan Blake.

PrideWest is entirely believable in the role, despite being a familiar face, and draws a range of emotions from the audience with seeming ease. A particular high point of this being an excellent dance routine that is counter pointed by some later, more introspective moments that I can only assume reflect the real Blake’s life and situation.

With awards already piling up it seems Pride is destined to be a critical success and, if there is any justice, it will be a commercial one too, though I have a feeling the issues it tackles might not be too palatable to some, particularly in the more conservative parts of America.

PrideThis is a shame as it’s probably exactly the sort of film they should be exposed to as it is never preachy or overbearing but deals with issues while also being, above all, hugely entertaining.

I don’t remember both laughing and crying at the same time so much in a movie in a long time if ever, and all without feeling over emotionally manipulated like many movies are wont to do, which sets Pride as a high watermark in its genre and possibly broader cinema in general.

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