Based on the first of Thomas Harris' novels to feature Lecter (previously filmed by Michael Mann as 1986's "Manhunter"), "Red Dragon" functions as a "Silence" prequel focused on the desperate efforts of former FBI profiler Will Graham ("Fight Club's" Edward Norton) to track down a family-slaying serial killer nicknamed "the Tooth Fairy." Attempting to get inside the villain's mind, Graham consults with Hopkins' psychiatrist-turned-serial cannibal Lecter, whose near-fatal last encounter with Graham ended the investigator's formal FBI career and left Lecter behind the bars of his familiar cell several years earlier.
While top billing goes to Hopkins' commanding third turn in his trademark role, "Red Dragon's" most unusual and satisfying plot strand is the one following Graham's tortured psychopath quarry ("The English Patient's" Ralph Fiennes) as a budding romance with a blind co-worker ("Punch-Drunk Love's" Emily Watson) temporarily distracts him from his grim work. Compared to the moving tragedy that plays out between these two characters, Graham himself comes off as a rather conventional haunted cop hero (the main element Harris improved when he switched to the unforgettably vulnerable FBI trainee Clarice Starling for his "Silence" protagonist).
Director Brett Ratner, previously best known for the slapstick "Rush Hour" action comedies, establishes his readiness to handle the demands of the thriller genre with a bravura opening segment (invented for the film) dramatizing the events leading up to Graham's capture of Lecter back in 1980. If the solid, well-crafted "Red Dragon" is otherwise unable to match the special power of director Jonathan Demme's genre masterpiece "Silence," Ratner can take comfort in the fact that nobody else--including "Hannibal" helmer Ridley Scott--has been able to do so either. Starring Anthony Hopkins, Edward Norton, Ralph Fiennes, Harvey Keitel, Emily Watson, Mary-Louise Parker and Philip Seymour Hoffman. Directed by Brett Ratner. Written by Ted Tally. Produced by Dino De Laurentiis and Martha De Laurentiis. A Universal release. Thriller. Rated R for violence, grisly images, language, some nudity and sexuality. Running time: 124 min