After three books and films featuring the enigmatic and deadly Hannibal Lecter, author Thomas Harris has decided to lift the lid on the murky past of perhaps the most known killer in fiction.
In Hannibal Rising, Harris has crafted a screenplay that stays close to his 2006 book of the same name, and presents Hannibal as a sympathetic character driven to his fate due to circumstances beyond what any reasonable person should have to endure.
The film opens with young Hannibal in 1944 as the Lecter family flees their family castle from the advancing Nazi forces. When a series of bizarre circumstances leave Hannibal and his younger sister alone, they are easy victims to a band of scavengers who come upon them.
After a series of horrific situations, the film flashes forward 8 years where Hannibal (Gaspard Ulliel), is now a ward of the Soviet State, and as a further insult, his former family castle is now the orphanage in which he lives.
Hannibal draws the wrath of the local bully as he refuses to sing the required nationalist songs, and generally only makes noise when he is screaming in his sleep due to his nightmares about his sister.
Despite his withdrawn nature, Hannibal is not against striking back at his tormentor and does so before fleeing the orphanage to France where he makes his way to the home of his Uncle.
Upon arrival, Hannibal learns that his Uncle has passed away, but is taken in and cared for by his Aunt (Gong Li). As time passes, the two form a bond, and Hannibal learns about martial arts from his Aunt as well as more about her Japanese heritage.
Despite the positive changes in his life, Hannibal is still haunted by his sister and is obsessed about finding the men who held them captive and exacting revenge.
Towards this end, Hannibal snaps and exacts a violent revenge upon a local merchant who disparages his aunt, which makes Hannibal known to the local police, especially Inspector Popil (Dominic West), who investigate suspected war criminals.
When a chance lead surfaces, Hannibal returns to his homeland and confronts one of his childhood captors. As he exacts his revenge, he also learns information about the locales of the others he seeks, and soon sets out of a series of revenge killings, all the while attempting to stay ahead of Inspector Popil and the authorities.
The film for the most part works, as it is engaging and does move at a solid pace during its nearly two-hour run time. Ulliel does a good job of capturing the manic and sophisticated duality of Lecter but does not have the eerie presence of Sir Anthony Hopkins who made Lecter into a household name and took home and Oscar for his portrayal.
To expect Ulliel to equal the performance of Hopkins would be unfair in my opinion, so suffice it to say, he carries the film well, and does as much justice to the part as could be expected.
The last part of the film does become a bit to pat for my taste as it seems as if the filmmakers did not have enough confidence with the pacing of the film to allow it to unfold the way the previous 90 minutes had. Instead we get some by the number action sequences and a final confrontation that seems lifted from dozens of other films.
While the finale may lack the tension that the film had been building towards, there are enough moments in the film to make it worth seeing if you are a fan of the series.
3.5 stars out of 5.