HANNIBAL directed by Ridley Scott, written by David Mamet and Steve Zaillian from the novel by Thomas Harris, produced by Dino De Laurentiis, Martha De Laurentiis and Scott, with Anthony Hopkins, Julianne Moore, Gary Oldman, Ray Liotta and Giancarlo Giannini. 130 minutes. An MGM/Universal release. Opens Friday (February 9). For venues and times, see First-Run Movies, page 65. Rating: NNNthree cheers for giancarlo gian-nini. In a film where the three principal actors are trapped, he is free.Anthony Hopkins had to extend what was the shortest performance ever to win the best-actor Oscar into a full-length, picture-carrying display. Julianne Moore needed to give her own performance while staying within Jodie Foster's chalk marks for the character of Clarice Starling. Gary Oldman, as Mason Verger, the rich, mutilated survivor of an earlier Lecter attack, is confined to a wheelchair and to that generic American accent he favours. With Moore on set, he could have picked up a cultivated North Carolina accent.
Giannini, however, has the time of his life as an Italian cop who discovers Hannibal Lecter in Florence.
Slouching in beautiful clothes (he has that uniquely Italian ability to look simultaneously like a rumpled bed and the most fantastically stylish thing you've ever seen), he sucks hungrily on cigarettes, mentally calculating what he might do with the bounty Verger has placed on Lecter. Giannini is the only character in the picture not trying to connect dots, and when he leaves, something leaves with him.
From the perspective of 1992, this movie looked easy. Let's make a sequel. We'll bring back the whole crew. But when Thomas Harris sent the finished novel along, director Jonathan Demme passed, then screenwriter Ted Tally passed, and finally Foster described the novel as "a betrayal of the character" of Starling to which she would not be party. Oops.
One suspects that Harris chuckled when he finished the book, which starts with a conventional movie set-piece and then wanders toward the most surreal ending of any thriller since Jim Thompson's The Getaway. Screenwriters David Mamet and Steve Zaillian (Schindler's List) haven't done a bad job. They've ruthlessly stripped out subplots and streamlined the labyrinthine narrative.
Director Ridley Scott keeps the first 75 minutes moving quickly, and manages a brilliant and elegant use of the film's Italian locations. The ancient Florentine architecture, squat on the outside, spacious and high-ceilinged within, has never seemed so menacing, and Scott, whose natural inclination is to turn everything he shoots into a fetish object, manages to resist it here. I was shocked that he didn't linger for seven or eight minutes on the great Mannerist fountain in front of the Palazzo Vecchio.
The filmmakers haven't licked the ending, though they tried, and the picture gets progressively less interesting. None of them have realized that Lecter's character is a great scary "boo" that gooses a movie along but is repulsive over the long haul. He's simply an amoral aesthete who acts on his contempt. And he's the hero!