Hannibal became available from Hopscotch Films on DVD and Blu-ray recently. I sat myself down to properly watch the critically acclaimed NBC series. I’ve been a long time fan of The Silence of the Lambs, and whilst I haven’t read the books (something about starting them when I was a young teen, but not being able to get through them), I’ve seen every film bar Manhunter (Michael Mann; 1986). The mythos surrounding the character of Hannibal Lecter has left a long-lasting dent in popular culture, creating a morbid fascination. I was already pre-sold when I learnt of the series concept – taking place in the days before Hannibal’s crimes were discovered, the series follows Special Agent Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) as he uses he unique gifts to help Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne), head of the Behavioral Science Unit of the FBI, to track down the worst serial killers. Concerned about Will’s mental state, Jack brings in renowned psychiatrist Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen) to keep an eye on Will’s health, and Will often finds himself turning to Lecter for advice. What Will and the others don’t know, is Hannibal’s own unique insight into the minds of psychopaths…

Hannibal does not disappoint, and I was hooked from the very first episode. A lot of that comes down to the inspired casting and characterisation, which goes far beyond simply concentrating on the two leads. Laurence Fishburne as Jack Crawford is a strong leader, not afraid to make difficult decisions. He’s sometimes pushy and can seem a little callous, especially when he practically forces a shattered Will to take on disturbing cases. As he says in one episode, he’d rather Will go a little bit insane, than see a serial killer on the loose. He is simply that devoted to his job. I also enjoyed the exploration of his personal life. Jack is so often portrayed as this larger than life, steady as a rock figure, so it’s nice to know he is human too. Casting the unscrupulous tabloid journalist Freddie Lounds (played in the film Red Dragon by Philip Seymour Hoffman) as a crafty, calculating red-headed woman, played by Lara Jean Chorostecki, was a brilliant twist on the source material, as was casting Caroline Dhavernas as Dr. Alana Bloom. Dr. Bloom is a protégé of Dr. Lecter’s and is Will Graham’s colleague and friend. She is often called in to assist Jack in cases as well. Her presence is calming and serene, contrasting the hornet’s nest of trouble that is stirred up whenever Lounds appears. I adore them both. Every single character inHannibal is carefully written and conceived. Nobody is one-dimensional here. Even Dr. Chilton (Raúl Esparza) who is normally so hateful is given a glimpse of humanity (though he’s still overall an idiotic man).


That brings me to our two leads. Hugh Dancy gives a brilliant new dimension to Will Graham. In the world created by author Thomas Harris, Graham is the protagonist of ‘Red Dragon’, and the man who eventually caught Dr. Lecter. His gift (or curse, as he calls it) is pure empathy – he can assume anyone’s point of view, and know how he or she thinks. It’s what makes him a great criminal profiler. As this series shows us though, this is a gift that leaves Will disturbed and stretched to breaking point. Dancy’s performance brings this across perfectly and it’s almost unnerving how completely he assumes that character. His slightly deranged and broken Will Graham is the perfect counter to Mads Mikkelsen’s calm, smooth (yet a million times more terrifying for it) Hannibal Lecter. I never thought anyone could top the performance of Anthony Hopkins, but Mikkelsen is most definitely on par. Or perhaps I should say equally good, but different. This is the only time we’ve seen Hannibal as he was, in his natural environment, before he was exposed. Every smile, every smirk, holds double meaning. He lies so easily to everyone around him, feigns concern so perfectly, that we find ourselves questioning our own perception and knowledge of him. We think, maybe he really does care? Then he’ll do something to undermine Will’s psyche, or the FBI investigation, or help a criminal, and we’re reminded just how evil he really is with a sickening jolt.

The visuals and the soundtrack are something else entirely; it’s highly stylized and incredibly striking. When Will assumes the point of view of a killer, there is a curious sound, like an old tape being rewound, and whenever he starts losing his grip on who he is, or his reality, there is a curious visual flickering, as if there is something wrong with the film stock. There are a lot of subtle moments like that, coupled with the moody, dark lighting that really help build up the atmosphere of dread. There are stark contrasts between the horror of the crime scenes, and the morgues (cold, steely, bloody) with the elegance and sometimes even the warmth of the home and office of Dr Lecter. And it doesn’t shy away from the gore. Oh no. This is not for the faint of heart. Kudos to the production and art design teams. Seriously.

If I had to fault this series for anything, it would be that there sometimes doesn’t feel like there is enough flow or cohesion between episodes or storylines. It feels a little too jumpy occasionally, but I also understand that we are so often seeing things from the subjective viewpoint of Will Graham, and his breakdown over the series is so utterly compelling, that I really don’t think it matters. It’s a minor complaint. There are a lot of references to the adaptations that have come before (“It’s nice to have an old friend for dinner.” – I nearly fell off my chair), and the use of the Goldberg Variations as Hannibal’s theme is perfection (if you recall, that was the music playing in The Silence of the Lambs during Hannibal’s escape). And don’t get me started on how creepy it is whenever we see Hannibal eating anything. Sometimes we know for a fact that it’s human, at other times it’s not certain, but we know he’s feeding it to the others. Shudder inducing stuff…

Superbly written, inspired casting, and dark, mesmerizing visuals – Hannibal is a triumph. Season 2 has already started filming, which is good news for all the fans out there, considering how season 1 ended! I’m just as much on the edge of my seat as the rest of you. This series has such potential; April 2014 cannot come soon enough.


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