Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Book & Movie Review: Red Dragon

Publication Date: 2009 (originally published in 1981)

Publisher: The Berkley Publishing Group

Format: Paperback

Genre:  Mystery/Thriller

Why I Chose It: It was given to me by Jill at Fizzy Thoughts for the Dueling Monsters Showdown.

Rating: (3.5/5 stars)

Short Synopsis of Book (Spoiler Free):

Former FBI investigator Will Graham retired after several soul-crushing experiences, including a near-fatal encounter with serial killer Hannibal Lecter. Lecter, a clever psychiatrist with a penchant for cannibalistic cuisine, is now held in custody.

Will is living a quiet life, with his wife and stepson, in Marathon, Florida. However when former colleague Jack Crawford appears, seeking Will's help tracking down a particularly sick and twisted serial killer, he can't refuse. Although the case is painful for him, and threatens to bring his marriage to an end, Will becomes determined to see it through.

The FBI is seeking the "Tooth Fairy," later known as the "Red Dragon," who has murdered two seemingly unrelated families, in separate parts of the country, in a brutal and bizarre fashion. Will has a particular gift for identifying serial killers. After all, it was he who nailed the notorious Hannibal Lecter. He is able to identify with other people, including sick and twisted killers, entering their minds and understanding what motivates them. This gift is both an asset and an albatross around his neck.

In the course of the investigation, Will enlists the help of unlikely allies, including sleazy tabloid reporter Freddy Lounds and Hannibal Lecter. Lecter offers bits of valuable insight while trying to get into Graham's head, compromising his sanity. The risks keep mounting as Graham and Crawford struggle to find the "Red Dragon" before he kills again.

More Thoughts on the Novel (Spoilers):

What I Liked:
  1. This is a straightforward thriller, and it's well done. It's strongly developed, well paced and suspenseful. I do like a good mystery.
  2. There is a great deal of forensic detail, which I find fascinating.
  3. Hannibal Lecter and Francis Dolarhyde ("Red Dragon") are spectacularly bat shit crazy and creepy.
  4. Will Graham is a smart hero who is easy to relate to as he wrestles with his emotions, his conscience, and his own dark side throughout the investigation.
  5. Just the right amount of descriptive detail. I could see each setting and feel the sweltering summer heat in the Deep South.
  6. Reba, Dolarhyde's love interest, is a great character. I love the scene where she gets to touch the tiger.

What I Didn't Like:
  1. The psychology behind Dolarhyde's evolution into a psychopath was a bit too cut and dried. I agree that abusive childhoods are fertile breeding grounds for sociopathy. And abuse can cause dissociative personality disorder. In a textbook way, I guess the psychology is pretty accurate. But the way Francis splits into himself and the "Red Dragon," with the dragon speaking in his grandmother's voice, was just too cliched. And his choosing, as his victims, families just like his stepfamily -- a pretty mom, two boys and a girl? Oh, and he even has mommy issues. Although this is a thriller rather than literary fiction, I thought it was too heavy-handed and trite.
  2. The ending sucked. Dolarhyde conveniently fakes his own suicide and turns up at Graham's house in Florida? You might as well have the "drowned" killer pop up out of the bathtub fifteen minutes later. Pu-leeze. 
  3. While I liked Will Graham and Reba -- and this book boasts not one, but two, spectacular nut jobs -- I found most of the characters forgettable. More depth of character development -- particularly with Will, Molly, and Jack -- would've enriched this novel tremendously.
  4. Will and Molly's ending. :-( Why couldn't a book with so many cliches, including the killer with mommy issues, give us a happy ending for those two? I'm just sayin'

About the Film Adaptation:

Year Released: 2002

Directed by: Brett Ratner

Written by: Ted Tally, based on the novel by Thomas Harris

Rating: (3.5/5 Stars)

I almost didn't watch this because ... well ... why watch a thriller if you already know what happens? But this movie features such a spectacular cast, I couldn't resist. Ralph Fiennes. Emily Watson. Philip Seymour Hoffman. Anthony Hopkins. Edward Norton. Harvey Keitel. The cast reads like a "Who's Who" of magnificent actors.

Though I wasn't as blown away by their performances as I was by their work in other roles, they did a great job. As "Red Dragon," Fiennes was understated, yet creepy. With expert use of his voice and body language, he owned the role. Hopkins was predictably skillful and creepy as Hannibal Lecter. Norton and Keitel did strong work, though not as good as they've done in other films. And I never would have pictured Philip Seymour Hoffman as sleazy tabloid reporter Freddy Lounds, but he definitely pulled it off.

The stand out performance, for me, was Emily Watson as Reba. She portrayed a staunchly independent blind woman, with constantly shifting reactions to the world around her, and did it brilliantly. She is one of my all-time favorite actresses -- love her!

Otherwise, I have little to add to my review of the book, above. While it pares down the story to fit a screenplay, the film follows the novel closely. My reaction to the movie -- both positive and negative -- reflects my opinion of the novel. It's effectively plotted and well-paced with a gratifying amount of twisted, disturbing insanity. However, there isn't much that elevates it from a run-of-the-mill thriller.

Other Reviews: That's What She Read; Fizzy Thoughts

Have you read or seen this? What did you think? 

So which is the better psycho-nut, Hannibal Lecter or Patrick Bateman?Tune in tomorrow to find out how I cast my vote.


  1. I think I saw a different movie version than the one you did. Is that possible? I'll have to go look on IMDB. I'm almost positive those people weren't in the one I saw.

  2. Ok … I just found out the version I saw was called Manhunter but was based on the same book. I knew I wasn't crazy!

    1. IMDB rocks! Was Manhunter any good?

  3. I've only seen the film and I agree, it's very well cast, Fiennes was fantastic. I think that the killer popping up at the end again was campy though. I did like that Reba brought out his humanity. How creepy was it when he brought her to his home?
    I'm not sure I could read the novel, the film scared me.

    1. Great comment, Naida! Reba did bring out his humanity. And that scene when he brings her to his house and she's ... err ... pleasuring him while he watches a video of his next victims? Eww! Very creepy. :-)

  4. I never read the book but I liked the movie a lot, it was very well made and I loved the performances from Hopkins, Hoffman, Watson and Fiennes. I agree that Dolalrhyde's background was a little cliche but Fiennes made it work - I suspect it worked better in the movie than in the book as simplistic things often come more alive in films because of actor's talents and ability.

    1. You made a good point. The movie goes into Francis's background in much less detail than the movie, so it may come across as more subtle. Plus Fiennes is just so awesome. :-)

  5. Glad you watched the movie, as the cast alone makes it worth it. Fiennes is a great villain, and I always forget the fantastic Emily Watson is in this. I might actually rewatch the Hannibal Lecter movies now. :)

  6. I considered trying to read this book for the Dueling Monsters but didn't end up finding the time for it. I still make go back though because I was intrigued after reading all of the reviews from the other participants. I can't say that I've watched the movie either but I want to now!

  7. Red Dragon was a big step down for me from The Silence of the Lambs, but then again so was every other Hannibal Lecter movie. In regards to Manhunter, it enjoys a large cult status among movie people as being the "real" Lecter story - some going so far as to say it's better than The Silence of the Lambs. I don't agree with that. I'd place it roughly equal with Red Dragon. Both movies show essentially the same scene, so the differentiation between them is the acting performances.


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