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Before the second great war in Lithuania, the Lecter family lived comfortably in a castle home. In 1944, they're driven out and everyone is killed. Except for 8-year-old Hannibal who watches as a band of desperate looters, led by the brutish Vladis Grutas, kill and eat his little sister, Mischa.
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Ten years later, Hannibal is in a Russian orphanage, mute from the shock of his trauma. He soon finds a means of escape and makes his way to the outskirts of Paris, where he finds his widowed aunt, Lady Murasaki. She takes Hannibal in and cares for him. Continually tormented by nightmares of his sister's fate, the young man soaks up Murasaki's Japanese heritage and training in martial arts. And he applies his quick mind to medical school. After defending his aunt's honor by killing a man who insults her, his growing taste for blood and revenge boils over and he sets out to find and destroy the men who killed Mischa.
Hannibal's father tries to rush the family to safety when explosions and signs of battle reach their estate. And from the beginning of the film young Hannibal is shown as a devoted brother willing to sacrifice to defend and protect his little sister. When their parents are killed, he finds food and covering for her. And when the looters break in he tries to drive them back, wielding a pole as a weapon. He is beaten while trying to stop them from taking her away.
When Hannibal shows up at his aunt's door, she welcomes him and repeatedly (sometimes unwisely) moves to protect him. She pleads with him to stop his self-destructive, murdering ways and forgive a killer who is wounded at Hannibal's feet.
Russian soldiers show concern for the children. Mischa waves at one of them and he smiles and waves back. Later, soldiers find a half-frozen Hannibal in the snow and carry him to safety.
Inspector Pascal Popil, who is trying to bring war criminals to justice, makes a big mistake in dealing with Hannibal early on, but eventually pleads with him to push down his crazed sense of vigilantism and let the police do their job.
A man on the way to the guillotine has his crucifix taken from around his neck and placed in his mouth with the explanation, "He wants his crucifix to remain with his brain, not his heart." While looking at a painting of Abraham sacrificing Isaac, Hannibal asks his aunt, "Do you suppose God intended to eat Isaac, that's why He told him to kill him?" No, she responds, "The angel intervenes in time." He replies ominously, "Not always."
Murasaki kneels before a ceremonial suit of Japanese armor and says, "Here is where I pray to my ancestors for strength, for courage." Much is made of this place of "worship." And it is here that Hannibal cements his murderous thoughts.
Grutas forcibly kisses Murasaki, licks her face and begins to try to rape her. A large man wields a knife and threatens to abuse Hannibal sexually. Women are imprisoned as sex slaves.
A butcher makes lewd (and racist) remarks to Hannibal's aunt, and he slaps her backside. Later, he continues in the same vein to Hannibal, using the f-word to drive his obscene points home. Pictures of partially dressed women adorn the wall in Grutas' office. Grutas is nude in the bath and then wears only a towel afterwards. Murasaki is dressed in a nightgown that exposes cleavage.
Hannibal and his aunt share a brief—but passionate—kiss.
Much of Hannibal Rising feels like a war movie. Strafing runs, massive explosions, etc., lend percussion to quite a few scenes. Hannibal's parents are killed when a German warplane smashes into a tank. His bleeding mother dies in his arms.
Grutas shoots a German officer in the forehead. (We get a close look at the resulting bullet hole.) He also blows away a helpless woman. He and his henchmen slap and manhandle the children, wielding guns, clubs and a small hatchet. That same hatchet is used to kill Mischa (offscreen) when the men drag her outside screaming. Most of the details surrounding Mischa's death are repeatedly revealed in nightmare flashbacks. We see meat boiling in a pan. Terrified faces. Evil hands pulling at flesh. Hannibal, years later, finds and buries Mischa's skull and bones.
In a series of deadly encounters that consumes half the film, Hannibal wreaks revenge on his sister's killers in increasingly creative and gruesome ways. He ties one man to a tree with a rope wrapped around his neck, chokes and tortures him to get information and then tightens it to the point of severing his head. (We see the head propped up on a tree stump with its cheeks cut off.) The next man he slowly drowns. Another one gets a cooking prong stuck in his leg and a sword blade shoved all the way through his head.
If you've more than gotten the point by now, skip down a paragraph or two. I'll be as discreet as possible in describing both Hannibal's first and climactic kills, but the scenes are so brutal they're still difficult to read about. After trying to blow Grutas up in his bathtub, Hannibal slices the man's Achilles tendons, carves a large "M" into his chest (we see grisly detail), pins his arm to the floor with the blade and rips his cheek off with his teeth. Much earlier, "defending" his aunt, Hannibal cuts deep gashes all over a man's body, then decapitates him. The head is later seen on a platter.
A man is crushed between a large boat and the side of a canal. Grutas shoots Hannibal in the back, seemingly paralyzing him, and pokes him in the leg with a knife—threatening to cut off his testicles. Murasaki stabs a man in the throat, with bloody results.
When in the Russian orphanage, Hannibal stabs a bully in the hand with a fork. The same bully steps into a bear trap left for him by Hannibal. So as to set up Hannibal's future fixation with sewing human flesh, his aunt sews up his cut thumb (which we see in close detail).
Crude or Profane Language
Three f-words. One use each of the words "h---" and "b--tard." There are also a handful of vulgar references made to male and female genitals.
Drug and Alcohol Content
After seeing a truth drug injected into a prisoner, Hannibal steals it and uses it on himself. He also stabs a man in the neck with a syringe full of sedatives. A number of characters are seen smoking. Hannibal drinks a glass of wine.
Other Negative Elements
Jews are taunted, abused and killed by Nazi officers and sadistic SS wannabes. One soldier tells a man suspected of being a Jew to expose his privates and then starts to undo the man's trousers. Early on, Inspector Popil appears to be certain of the young man's guilt, but he feels sympathy for him (the Inspector lost his family in the war, too) and seemingly sets him free to kill again.
After the wild success of the 1991 movie The Silence of the Lambs (it made almost $300 million worldwide and earned five Academy Awards), Hollywood execs waited with bated breath for author Thomas Harris to crank out his next Lecter novel. They grinned and rubbed their hands together at the thought of another blockbuster moneymaker. I remember reading the ending of that book (titled Hannibal) and thinking, He's thumbing his nose at them. There's no way a major studio will dare put this horrendous stuff in a movie. But of course MGM did—ending the film with a man eating lightly sautéed slices of his own brain.
Well, Hannibal has come and gone. Red Dragon has come and gone. And now it's time for a set-the-stage-for-all-three-of-those-stories prequel. Thomas Harris himself was tapped to write the screenplay this time, so we get it straight from the source. And the result, while sometimes far from typical Hannibal "thriller" material, is well-paced and director Peter Webber creates post-World War II environs with a thoughtful beauty. No, I take that back, it's impossible to put a pretty face on a charnel house no matter how good your cinematography is. So let's just say that it's technically well-done but physically, emotionally and spiritually ... cannibalistic.
This is a lurid Faustian opera that throws a morgue full of twisted pop psychology at a killer's backstory in an attempt to make us feel sympathy for the devil. We're beckoned to care as Hannibal descends into hell. Make that, leaps into hell. Hannibal doesn't really struggle. There is no descent. He just seems glad to be home as he looks at us with an over-the-top demonic glare.
Can any redemption be found in exploring the why of it all? Not here. The times that the Inspector and Lecter's aunt beg him to stop and "forgive" are quickly slapped aside to clear the path for the next visceral bloodletting.
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Gaspard Ulliel as Hannibal Lecter; Rhys Ifans as Vladis Grutas; Gong Li as Lady Murasaki Shikibu; Dominic West as Inspector Pascal Popil
Peter Webber ( )