The JOE-DOWN Reviews ‘Red Dragon’

Welcome to the JOE-DOWN, a back-and-forth movie review blog by two snarky newspapermen named Joe from Minnesota, Joe Froemming and Joe Brown. We will take turns selecting a movie — any movie we want — and review it here. For this installment, Brown picked “Red Dragon.”

The info:

The Movie: “Red Dragon”

Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Edward Norton, Ralph Fiennes

Director: Brett Ratner

Plot Summary: (From IMDB) A retired FBI agent with psychological gifts is assigned to help track down “The Tooth Fairy,’ a mysterious serial killer. Aiding him is imprisoned forensic psychiatrist Dr. Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lecter.

Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 68 percent

Our take:

Brown: We’re back! And much like Snake Plissken, we have proven the rumors wrong. 

Well, that’s not true: No one asked if the JOE-DOWN was dead. Just on hiatus. Life and work get in the way, folks. 

But rest assured, the JOE-DOWN will be here as long as Froemming and I can continue to do this to each other. Give it another year.

To mark our return to your eyeballs, I wanted to go in a different direction with this week’s movie “Red Dragon.”

For longtime readers, one of our earliest reviews was on the 1986 movie “Manhunter.” Both “Manhunter” and “Red Dragon” are based on the Thomas Harris novel “Red Dragon.” 

But the movies have different influences behind them. While “Manhunter” was a standalone title about the mind of FBI agent Will Graham, “Red Dragon” is the third installment of this Hannibal Lecter trilogy of movies starring Anthony Hopkins. 

And… it’s handcuffed by that. 

Froemming, while I warm up my slideshow projector, give us your initial thoughts.

Froemming: This whole time I was writing my notes, I was thinking this:

Because, minus the praising parts, I had written these plot points before.

We watched what was a pretty unnecessary movie (at times, felt like a remake), since “Manhunter” already exists and there was no way Brett “creepy pervert” Ratner was going to come close to how good that movie was.

Also, the Red Dragon story was remade a third time on the show “Hannibal” and that got pretty damn close to how good “Manhunter” was.

As much as I would love to keep talking about “Manhunter,” that is not the movie we watched. We watched a Hannibal Lecter movie where he has a mid-life crisis ponytail in the opening scenes.

*sigh*

Brown, as I sit here and wish we got a Brian Cox version of “Silence of the Lambs,” why don’t you kick this off.

Brown: The movie opens with a dinner party in Baltimore, which made me think of all “The Wire” references dancing in Froemming’s head. 

Froemming: 

Michael Mann to Brett Ratner:

Brown: It’s your run-of-the-mill ‘80s dinner party with old money surely abandoning their kids for a weekend to celebrate their rich endeavors. 

Your party host: Dr. Hannibal Lecter, complete with disturbing ponytail. That’s the hallmark of an asshole or an art major, and I don’t know any artists who go by Doctor so…

Also, Hannibal won’t tell his guests what kind of meat they’re eating. If this were “Manhunter,” I’d be a little miffed for the lack of insight but this is the third of a series so we all know Hannibal is an articulate monster. 

Not only is the ponytail disturbing, but for a prequel, Anthony Hopkins is prohibitively old for this movie. 

Froemming: Right? He is about a decade older, since that is pretty much the time between shooting “Silence of the Lambs” and this. It is like seeing the visibly older Bob Odenkirk playing a young Saul Goodman in “Better Call Saul.”

Brown: It’s difficult to buy into this being a young Hannibal Lecter when the lines in his face have quadrupled. People get older and this was 11 years after “Lambs” and Hopkins’ portrayal of the character is legendary. But this was distracting throughout the entire movie.

Froemming: Which is another beef I had. This had way too much Hannibal in it. The character was more creepy in smaller bits in the good version of this movie, “Manhunter.” Here we get this opening scene, him having a fancy dinner in prison, and it really isn’t a Hannibal Lecter movie. This is a Will Graham movie.

Anywho, Will Graham goes to Hannibal’s apartment, where I imagine he just doesn’t bring up that wretched ponytail out of respect. 

Brown: At this point, Will looks like he cuts his own hair so he shouldn’t be one to judge.

Froemming: But honestly, if they are such close pals here, he really should. If Brown had this kind of rattail popping out of the back of his head, I would tell him to cut the thing off.

Brown: I did have a rattail when I was 3 years old. And no, you can’t retroactively call CPS on my parents. I’ve tried.

Froemming: So they are working on a serial killer case and Will realizes he has missed some major things about it. For instance, the killer is eating his trophies taken from the victims. Then he gets all pissy about Lecter missing this too, but last I checked, WILL, Hannibal is not a (RECATED) cop like you. 

Anyway, Hannibal says he will grab Will’s coat, which is a weird thing since wouldn’t that coat be by the door out of his apartment. Hannibal is just adding steps to kicking people out of his home, like a chucklehead.

Brown: Mulling over things while Hannibal grabs his coat, Will happens upon one of the doctor’s books where he finds a passage about the pancreas, I believe, and has “sweetbread” penciled in. 

Oh shit! Hannibal is our cannibal.

Froemming: 

Brown: 

Froemming: Then Hannibal attacks Will, stabbing him with a knife. Last I checked, Will was also in an underground fight club, so he should have no problem beating the snot out of this old man and his ponytail.

Which, he does get one over on old Ponytail Lecter, by pulling the old pocket sand routine but this time with arrows.

Brown: This is the second Edward Norton movie where he’s suffered bodily harm, the first being “Birdman.” And I’m not sick of it.

Then we get the opening credit sequence, which is just basically a collage of newspaper clips from Hannibal’s trial. It also shows Will’s recovery after the attack from Hannibal and how he left the FBI afterwards. 

Froemming: Well, maybe he learned the old Homer Simpson lesson with this:

Brown: We also see a movie newspaper trope that I HATE where the paper uses a mugshot as main art for a centerpiece story. 

Froemming: I hate seeing newspaper layout design in every movie that uses it. They get it wrong 100 percent of the time. Here was no exception. 

This also briefly mentions Hannibal as the The Chesapeake Ripper, which the show got into more detail about. It also made me wish I was not only watching “Manhunter” instead, but also “Hannibal.” And not the sequel movie with Ray Liotta. 

Brown: Quick aside from the credits: I did laugh when I saw Danny Elfman did the soundtrack. Nothing like the guy who made the theme song for “The Simpsons” score a movie about grizzly murder.

Froemming: He was also in Oingo Boingo, one of the worst bands in the history of music.

Anyway, this is where the notes for “Manhunter” and this movie begin to blur in my memory. We see Will on a beach working on a boat when Jack Crawford comes around. Except in my notes, I called him Mr. White, because it is (REDACTED) Harvey Keitel. 

Brown: See, I went to Winston Wolfe. Now I want to watch a movie from a better director than Brett Ratner. Wide list, I know.

And while this looks like a more reasonable house than what Will Graham had in “Manhunter,” my complaint remains consistent: There is no (REDACTED) way a cop, even an FBI agent, can afford beachfront property in Florida. 

Froemming: I am feeling like this right now.

Brown: Anyways, Crawford is nudging Will into looking into a serial killer case involving the “Tooth Fairy,” who has killed two families already during the full moon. They have a few more weeks before the next full moon and the FBI wants to catch him before he strikes again. 

Will is… understandably hesitant considering the giant-ass scar he’s got on his torso. Also, studying serial killers brings out something in Will, who understands the mind of serial killers better than anyone. He can tap into the depraved thoughts that a killer delves into. 

Only, “Red Dragon” does a terrible job of this compared to “Manhunter.” 

William Petersen’s portrayal of Will Graham seems much more frantic and on the edge of order and chaos. You can believe he’s walking that fine line where if one thing went another direction in his life, he’d be a killer. 

You don’t get that with Norton. He’s too in control, if that makes sense. The only thing that shows him thinking like a killer is a jump scare of flashes of a crime scene that pop on screen. That’s about it.

Froemming: And like in “Manhunter,” Will goes into the victims’ home, where like you mentioned, this does not do as good of a job. And, Will picturing the murder we get some nudity that did not feel like it was needed. 

Anyway, Will realizes the killer used mirrors in the eyes to feel lik…

DAMNIT WE HAVE ALREADY TALKED ABOUT ALL THIS!

Brown: In hopes of making a profile of our killer, Crawford suggests a terrible idea: Will should work with Dr. Lecter again. Will, for obvious reasons, is hesitant to this idea. 

… And then he does it. Which I appreciate only because we get to once again see Frankie Faison as Barney, one of the jailers at the maximum security prison. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed over the lack of a Miggs cameo.

And it’s here that Will and Hannibal meet once again. Without even looking up, Hannibal knows it is Will based off the smell of his aftershave. 

I know I said Hopkins is too old for this movie, but his Hannibal Lecter is still really (REDACTED) good.

Froemming: I felt Hopkins was phoning it in. Hannibal is no longer this scary element like in “Lambs,” he is now acting like a spoiled teenager when discussing his helping of the case. He feels too jokey in this for me. A parody of what he brought to “Lambs.”

Brown: I can see that, but it makes sense that Hannibal is more of an asshole toward Will than he ever was with Clarice due to their history together. Plus, the impact of the character is lessened when it’s movie number three. Hopkins isn’t as good as in “Lambs,” but it’s still quality. 

Froemming: The show does the relationship between Will and Hannibal the best. “Manhunter” a close second and this is dead last.

Anyway, Hannibal agrees to help with the case, though Will won’t let him keep the photos from the murder scene. Because why on earth would Hannibal think that was going to fly? 

Then following this, we get the scene I relate to the most: Will Graham’s sweaty armpits. He is pitting out hard, and as someone who has this sort of problem too, I feel ya Will.

Brown: I was nicknamed “Sweaty Joe” in high school, so I certainly relate. 

The aftermath of the Will/Hannibal reunion was better in “Manhunter.” In that movie, you see Will running out of the prison in a panic. Norton is more subdued, which makes him seem more unphased by it. Again, I don’t get the vibe from Norton. If anyone felt phoned in to me, it was Norton.

Froemming: “Manhunter” did everything better than this movie. And yes, Norton also seems to be phoning it in. When you get two not-great performances by Anthony Hopkins and Ed Norton, then I say the crappy director is to blame.

Anyway, Will is photographed leaving the prison by a media duo led by Freddy Lounds, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman.

(REDACTED). With this cast, this movie should have been a whole lot (REDACTED) better.

Brown: I can’t argue that. Also, between this and “Almost Famous,” Philip Seymour Hoffman had the market cornered on schlubby journalists. 

Freddy Lounds and Will also have a history together. Lounds did a lot of reporting on the Hannibal case and went so far as to break into the hospital to take photos of Will recovering after the stabbing. Being that he works for a tabloid, it’s par for the course. 

Then there’s our serial killer, Francis Dolarhyde, played by Ralph Fiennes. He lived in an old mental hospital and works at a film development company. Ahh, photo and film development: a business that died before print journalism. Somehow, that made me feel good.

Froemming: Yeah, except like you brought to my attention. This Francis does not rock out to Iron Butterfly, which was bullshit!

Francis, we learn in this movie, had an abusive grandmother. I never read the book, so I am not sure if this is just ripping off the idea from “Psycho” or not. It feels like it is, given how lousy this film is. 

This Francis also pumps iron and is jacked and looks like a movie star instead of a creepy loner like in the better version of this movie. He is writing and designing his own scrapbook of his life, and we see here he is not fond of the “Tooth Fairy” nickname. He prefers Red Dragon (which I also agree, is a much cooler nickname), but since he does nothing in his murders to imply a Red Dragon, he is stuck with a nickname that is also the title of a kids comedy starring The Rock

Brown: I think I preferred Fiennes portrayal. I’d be more confident in that statement if he had Iron Butterfly CDs and tropical wallpaper but on the whole, Fiennes does tortured soul well. Yeah, he doesn’t fit the physical description you’d expect like Tom Noonan. But Fiennes sells anguish well. And that idea of having a handsome killer (the movie does bash over your head that other people think Francis is good looking) that can’t see himself that way due to childhood trauma (from an abusive grandmother and having a cleft palate) is an interesting direction. Plus, it helps when this movie develops the character more than “Manhunter” did. 

Froemming: Yeah, I guess I didn’t need more about Francis. I think the better version of this movie did it better.

Anyway, Will visits Hannibal again during his exercise time, and our anti-hero is chained to the ceiling so he can’t jump and murder people. Will had visited another victim’s house and realized the killer spied on the home from up in the trees and…

DAMNIT WE HAVE COVERED THIS BEFORE!

Will finds a weird symbol carved in it, and discusses it with Lecter, and we find out it is an ancient symbol for Red Dragon. 

We also learn this first kill was sloppy, which Hannibal excuses since it was the Tooth Fairy’s first day on the job, you gotta expect a learning curve, Will.

Brown: Also, Hannibal is communicating with the Tooth Fairy. 

See, Francis is a rather big fan of Hannibal and has a scrapbook of the Lecter trial that is thicker than the dictionary at your local library. This fandom leads to Francis writing a fan letter to Hannibal on a roll of toilet paper where he goes so far as to sign it with his signature Red Dragon dentures/bite mark. 

The FBI deduces that Lecter will respond in the personal ads in The Tattler, the tabloid that Lounds works at. This sets off a sequence where the prison turns over Hannibal’s cell for more evidence and the FBI having to decode Hannibal’s message to Francis. 

Hannibal finds out the ruse because he’s smarter than all of us. And, the message is decoded and tells Francis what town Will lives in. So now the man’s family is in danger and Mary-Louise Parker has to give up her weed empire for an undetermined amount of time.

Froemming: They say they are not allowed to read prisoners’ mail, and that is how Hannibal got a correspondence going.

Bullshit, prisons always read mail coming in and leaving. That part made no sense at all. Once you are in prison, you pretty much have no rights at all. That is the (REDACTED) point. 

We now get the romantic part, where Francis meets the blind woman Reba McClane, who gets hassled by Brad from “Pulp Fiction” at work.

After her shift, Francis does not just ask her if she needs a ride, he shouts “RIDE WITH ME” like a goddamn weirdo.

But this sort of aggressive flirting works for some reason, because Reba takes the ride and has Francis come over for some coffee. Have I been flirting wrong all these years?

Brown: Try the aggressive route the next time you hit the town of Fargo. 

The romance blossoms. Francis takes Reba to a zoo where she can pet a tiger. They have sex. Hell, Reba has oral sex with Francis while he’s watching a home movie of the next family he’s going to kill. 

Froemming: Francis in that moment has what Raffi from “The League” calls a “murder boner.”

Brown: Now I’m imagining Francis having a supply of pocket dogs. Plus, that hospital he lives in is old. There’s probably a toilet kitchen.

Around this time, we have maybe the most iconic scene of this movie when Francis kidnaps Lounds and makes him watch a slideshow of his murders. We also see Francis’ giant-ass back tattoo of the dragon. And Lounds dies when he’s engulfed in flames and is sent down a hill to the offices of the Tattler. 

Honestly, the parody of this in “South Park” is the first thing I thought of when I picked this movie.

I imagine Froemming was like Cartman while watching “Red Dragon.”

Froemming: Yup. Lounds dies a tragic death.

All because he got involved in a #FakeNews story about the Tooth Fairy, publishing dirty lies from Lyin’ Will Graham about the killer. Very sad. Big sad. Big lies. Will is very weak.

Do the cops get in trouble for putting Lounds in danger’s way? Nah, Blue Lives Matter, people.

Brown: Yeah… Will is gonna have to sell his palatial beachfront property because of the pending civil suit from the Lounds family.  

Francis goes through a struggle with his figurative demons as he’s overcome with the urge to kill Reba. This is shown by Francis yelling at a literal demon, which is a giant poster of the Red Dragon painting in his bedroom. Man, he really lucked out with a blind girlfriend. 

Francis drops Reba off in a rather aggressive fashion because he’s going to Brooklyn to see the actual Red Dragon painting by William Blake. Once he finds it, he knocks out the museum worker and starts eating the painting. 

… Francis’ idea of fighting his demons is to eat Blake’s homework?

Froemming: He is kinda like Charlie from “It’s Always Sunny,” I imagine Francis also eats the sticker on the fruit he buys in the Italian market.

Brown: Quick question: Who’s more awkward around women: Francis, you, or me?

Froemming: Me, easily.

Will finally figures out how the killer knows the layouts from the homes he broke into. It was literally in front of him the whole time: Home movies. Home movies that were brought to Francis’ place of work to be edited to look like a Tim and Eric bit.

Brown: All family movies need star wipes, Froemming.

Froemming: Will also finds out these videos come from the same company. So he and Crawford go to the place to ask about any weirdo employees they might have. But hey have union rules, the Local 480 will bust this guy’s chops if he lets the cops look at files.

Will gives the vaguest description of his killer and what do you know, THEY HAVE A GUY JUST LIKE THAT! 

What are the odds?

They are there just when Francis just happened to have gotten back from his trip to New York. Where I imagine he visited Michael Scott’s favorite NY pizza place: Sbarro’s.

But once he sees Will, he knows he is close to being busted, so he drives to Reba’s place, where she is coming home from a date with Brad from “Pulp Fiction.”

Brad, the only man killed by both The Tooth Fairy and Jules Winnfield. 

Brown: Francis kidnaps Reba and brings her to his home. He sets the building on fire and wants to do a murder/suicide. Instead, Francis’ fights off the urge to kill Reba and apparently kills himself with a shotgun. Reba finds the corpse and is able to maneuver her way out of the house when the grandfather clock goes off and she can retrace her steps from there. I thought that was a clever way out of that scene. 

Then the hospital explodes right as Will and the FBI arrives. Because the one thing we all agreed on is the one thing Hannibal Lecter movies were lacking were ‘splosions!

All in all, I’d rather have Will and Francis have a gunfight while “In a Gadda Da Vida” is playing in the background. Because at least the movie ends there. 

We still have another five minutes here because Francis is apparently Michael Myers?

Froemming: Francis pulls the old bait-and-switch and just put another round in poor Brad’s head to make Reba think he offed himself.

Will gets this call at a very good time, because it happens to be right when Francis breaks into his home in Florida and smash all his mirrors, which how did nobody hear that?

Anyway, Will finds Francis holding his son hostage, and he sees his kid has pissed his pants, probably because Billy Madison said it was cool.

So, Will decides to berate the boy like Francis’ grandmother used to do with him. And in this scene, we see Francis relive a past trauma as Will’s son goes through a current trauma of his dad mocking him. Life experiences were abound in this short moment.

Brown: Stop the cycle of abuse, Will! Frankly, I think it was more an excuse for Will to yell at his kid and less about saving his life. 

Froemming: Well, are you going to mop up that pee and do another load of laundry, or is Will?

Brown: Will and Francis have a scuffle that results in Will getting stabbed with a piece of mirror and both shoot each other. As Francis starts to rise (again, he’s Michael Myers all of a sudden), Will’s wife Molly comes up the stairs and kills Francis. 

I’ll voice my displeasure over the soundtrack of Francis’ death again. Iron Butterfly > Danny Elfman. 

We get one final scene with Hannibal as Dr. Chilton tells him there’s a young woman from the FBI coming to talk with Hannibal about a case. 

And once again, we’re reminded that we could be watching a better movie. 

Froemming, let’s go to recommendations before I start eating a priceless piece of art.

WOULD YOU RECOMMEND?

Brown: No. This movie suffers for being so… average despite having some Hollywood heavy hitters. “Manhunter” was a better telling of this story. The Hannibal Lecter movies should have stopped at one.

Froemming: No, just watch “Manhunter” and the “Hannibal” series for this story.

Here is what’s coming up for the next Joe-Down:

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