The "who" and the "how" were explored about Dr. Hannibal Lecter in films like Red Dragon and Hannibal. Now, in Peter Webber's "prequel" Hannibal Rising, the why is revealed about the man who would become a fearsome serial killer.
The stylish means to provide continuity between Thomas Harris's earlier novels and this one, which he adapted for the screen, will be somewhat of a draw, besides the title.
Gaspard Ulliel inhabits the titular role in this origin picture, which might be thought of as a darker version of comic book adaptations like "X-Men" and "Hellboy."
The desperate conclusion of World War II has had a traumatic effect on young Hannibal, initially played by Aaron Thomas, who dwells in Lithuania. The emotional scarring has come from Russians, Nazis, and brutish mercenaries, and the lad's sister (Helena Tachovska) in his care will suffer a fate similar to his parents.
This somewhat vicious tale of vengenance has Hannibal escaping to Paris to become educated in medicine, while locating his uncle. While Hannibal learns of his death, there's a bond formed with his uncle's gorgeous Japanese widow, endowed with an air of mystery by Gong Li (Curse of the Golden Flower).
Hannibal is out to search out those who made his life into a wretched existence. Meanwhile, there is detective (Dominic West of Chicago, 28 Days) starting to track this elusive person who displays a deeply, penetrating scientific aptitude during his studies.
Webber, who artfully helmed Girl with a Pearl Earring, offers a lustrous European feel to the proceedings, and works in some foreshadowing of Harris's later (already seen) stories. All kinds of sinister people will come into the plagued fellow's life, including homicidal thugs, done with monstrous glee by the likes of Rhys Ifans. Kevin McKidd turns up as a benefitting, haunted collaborator.
Harris's scripting has the operatic pretentiousness that befits those into sadistic activity, and his themes are laced with the macabre and Grand Guignol. Ulliel fills the character with less psychotic conflict than one might anticipate. The motivation reveals a cunning, if grisly transformation from a nightmarish state with Li oddly around for the mayhem, looking quite interesting, whether in a kimono, or in leather.
While this thriller has an insatiable lust about it, like the making of Lecter, the dollops of the camp and wit hardly overcome the absurdity and excess as we start to understand the rise of a legend who would come to savor fava beans and chianti.