Greatest Movie Series
Franchises of All Time

The "Hannibal Lecter" Films

Red Dragon (2002)

Hannibal Lecter Films (Original)
Manhunter (1986) | The Silence of the Lambs (1991) | Hannibal (2001)

Hannibal Lecter Films (Prequels)
Red Dragon (2002) | Hannibal Rising (2007)

The "Hannibal Lecter" Films (Prequels)
Red Dragon (2002)
d. Brett Ratner, 124 minutes

Film Plot Summary

The film opened in Baltimore, Maryland in 1980 during a symphonic concert, attended by the cultured, infamous forensic psychiatrist Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins), who winced at the off-key notes played by one of the flautist musicians. Later, in his local townhouse residence in Chandler Square, the refined Lecter hosted an elegant dinner party for Baltimore Symphony board members, during which the guests discussed the mysterious disappearance of the same inept musician, as Lecter served a "divine-looking amuse bouche," but told one of the ladies when she asked about it: "If I told you, I'm afraid you won't even try it" - he then encouraged them: "Bon appetit."

As he cleared the table after the guests departed, FBI Special Agent Will Graham (Edward Norton) visited the famed doctor, to consult about their psychological profiling of a serial killer who was known for his precise cuts and "choice of souvenirs." Graham believed they were off-target, and that the killer was cannibalistic: "He's not collecting body parts...He's not keeping them. He's eating them." From the victims' corpses, Graham had noticed how "liver, kidney, tongue, thymus - every single victim lost some body part used in cooking." Lecter realized that Graham had the troubling gift of "eidetiker...more akin to artistic imagination. You're able to assume the emotional point of view of other people" - and then added: "How I'd love to get you on my couch." They planned to revise their profile the next morning. As he prepared to leave, Graham found suspicious items in Lecter's study implicating him in the crimes, including a French book titled Larousse Gastronomique (with an entry on "Ris de veau" notated as 'Sweetbreads'). Suddenly, Lecter attacked, stabbing Graham in the stomach with a stiletto as he expressed his regret: "Every game must have its ending" and then threatened: "I think I'll eat your heart." Graham courageously retaliated, stabbing Lecter in the abdomen with three arrows from a quiver, and then shot him multiple times.

During the credits, a scrapbook's contents were viewed, including various news articles from the National Tattler tabloid, sometimes commented upon by its reporter Freddy Lounds: "Local Doctor Wounded, FBI Agent in Extremely Critical Condition - Details Unclear in Bizarre Bloodbath," "Dr. Hannibal Lecter is Chesapeake Ripper, Reasons Motivating Dr. Hannibal Lecter's Butchery Are Still Left Unclear...," "Chamber of Horrors Revealed," "Lecter's Recipe for Death!", and "Fiend Served Human Organs to Guests." It was written that Lecter (known as "Hannibal the Cannibal") stood trial for his gruesome crimes (in a "Trial of the Century"), as the FBI agent slowly recovered and was able to testify. The trial's verdict was "GUILTY" and Lecter was sentenced "to be caged forever" with "nine consecutive life terms." Stress and psychic trauma, through close identification with his prey, forced "Top Cop" Graham to enter a "loony bin" (according to the tabloid) and retire from the FBI.

In Marathon, Florida several years later, Graham had recovered and found a life of self-imposed retreat - living in his Florida Keys home with his pretty wife Molly (Mary-Louise Parker) and son Josh. He was visited by ex-boss FBI agent Jack Crawford (Harvey Keitel), and they discussed recent news reports of another serial killer, who had mercilessly killed two entire families (presumably selected randomly) only a month apart from each other, in Birmingham and Atlanta. There were similar circumstances in each crime: the killer "smashes mirrors and uses the pieces," wears latex gloves to avoid leaving prints, and has size-11 shoes and AB positive blood. Graham was reluctant to assist Crawford on the case with his special talent ("it's the way you think...imagination, projection, whatever"), although changed his mind after viewing family photos of the victims. The Jacobi family in Birmingham was murdered during a full moon, and the Leeds family in Atlanta was murdered a month after (just a few days earlier), and the next full moon (and potentially next attack) was about 3 weeks away: "I think we have a better chance to catch him fast if you help," Crawford pleaded, requesting that Graham check out the crime scenes and look at the evidence to provide another point of view. Although Graham's unconvinced wife Molly strongly objected, he decided to accept the free-lance assignment and "save some lives," while assuring her: "This one will never see me or know my name...The cops will have to take him down, not me."

In the Leeds house crime scene in Atlanta, Graham closely examined the evidence throughout, first in the blood-splattered master bedroom. He recorded his findings about how the intruder first cut Charles Leeds' throat, then shot Valerie Leeds in the stomach, and proceeded to the children's room to shoot them in their beds. The killer then dragged the childrens' bodies to the master bedroom, where he gave "extra attention" to Mrs. Leeds. Mirrors were broken with shards taken from them and post-mortem "inserted in the orbital sockets of the victims." Graham asked himself: "Why did you put mirrors in their eyes?" Later, in his Sheraton hotel room where he surrounded himself with crime scene photos, he had a sudden insight and answer to his question: "The pieces of mirror make their eyes look alive. He-he wanted an audience. He-he wanted them all lined up, watching him when he touched her." Traces of talcum powder on Mrs. Leeds' right inner thigh meant that the killer took off his latex gloves when he touched her, and there was the possibility he also touched her eyes with his bare hands. Graham ordered latent prints of Mrs. Leeds' eyes, even her corneas.

In an Atlanta police department briefing, the subject's teeth (with a unique bite signature) were observed - derived from bite marks on Mrs. Leeds. Graham announced his few findings about the murders: "This was not random. This wasn't some killing frenzy. He was never out of control. These attacks were highly organized, the women carefully chosen. We don't know how he's choosing them, or why. They lived in different states and they never met. But there is some connection. There's some common factor and that's the key. Find out what that is, and we'll save lives." He also described why the killer wouldn't stop his rampage: "Because it makes him God. Would you give that up?" In both murder scenes, the pet animals were both curiously absent the night of the crimes (the Leeds' dog Duchess suffered lethal injuries the night before), and Graham ordered a search of the Jacobi backyard for a buried cat. Also, a partial thumb print was found on Mrs. Leeds' left eye.

Outside the police department, Graham was confronted by sleazy tabloid reporter Freddy Lounds (Philip Seymour Hoffman), who had covered the Lecter case for the National Tattler and wrote the paperback. He asked: "You think the Tooth Fairy will be an even bigger story than Lecter? He's already beaten Lecter's score." Graham seized the despised Lounds and accused him of writing "lying s--t" and then called the Tattler an "ass wipe!" He threatened: "Stay away from me." Graham then told Crawford that his job was finished and he was going home. He admitted that he was only able to determine "broad strokes" about the Tooth Fairy - "He's got no face to me." He described how on previous successfully-solved cases that he received insightful help from Dr. Lecter, a resource (and "shortcut") that could be utilized to help capture the criminal.

Graham convinced himself to visit the Baltimore State Forensic Hospital, where slimy Dr. Frederick Chilton (Anthony Heald), Lecter's psychologist, discussed his patient: "He's simply impenetrable to psychological testing," and then quizzed Graham about his intimate knowledge of Lecter: "You caught him. What was your trick?" Graham responded bluntly: "I let him kill me," as he entered the basement cell area. He walked down between the row of cells to a battered metal folding chair in front of Lecter's cell. Without seeing him, Lecter knew it was Graham by his aftershave smell of Old Spice, and admitted he didn't have Graham's new home address. Lecter psychically knew that Graham was there to ask advice about the two separate murders: "You want to know how he's choosing them, don't you?" Graham tempted Lecter with computer access and knowledge of the case file in exchange for information, as well as meeting the challenge "to find out if you're smarter than the person I'm looking for." Graham was quick to admit he wasn't smarter than Lecter, and assessed why he caught the brilliant criminal: "You had disadvantages...You're insane." Lecter then noted Graham's tan and rough hands, and asked about his lovely wife Molly and young son Josh: "They're always in my thoughts, you know." Lecter did promise to assist: "Give me the file then, and I'll tell you what I think. I need one hour and privacy. Just like old times, hey, Will?"

After Lecter's perusal of the file, he stated: "This is a very shy boy, Will. I'd love to meet him." He was possibly "disfigured." After killing the women, the Tooth Fairy needed to see his victims "living" with shards of mirror placed in their eye sockets to "see himself there" - something Will had already considered. Lecter asked about the yards surrounding the homes - both were fenced with big back yards and hedges, where the serial killer could potentially find privacy (in the nude) and look at the blackish-appearing blood in the light of the full moon. Lecter then insulted Graham with a chilling monologue: "You stink of fear and that cheap lotion. You stink of fear, Will, but you're not a coward. You fear me, but still you came here. You fear this shy boy, yet still you seek him out. Don't you understand, Will? You caught me because we are very much alike. Without our imaginations, we'd be like all those other poor dullards. Fear is the price of our instrument, but I can help you bear it."

Afterwards, Graham revisited the Leeds house, where he found home videos of the Leeds family that showed the happily-married couple at home with their children and during a pool party. He then traveled to Birmingham, Alabama to examine evidence at the Jacobi house. He first surveyed the woodsy area surrounding the rural home, where he found a soda-can flip-top, and a recently-cut branch at the foot of a tree trunk. He climbed to the fork of the tree that provided a perfect vantage point from which to view the house and its layout, and thought to himself: "You sat right here, didn't you? You watched the children bury the cat. Then you waited for dark." He also noticed a carving of a symbol in the bark made with a buck knife ("You're proud. You had to sign your work," Graham mused).

The next scene began with the view of the outside of the Dolarhyde Nursing Home, a run-down and neglected facility in rural Missouri where crazed Francis Dolarhyde (Ralph Fiennes) -- the Tooth Fairy serial killer - had grown up and was currently living. Orphaned, he had been systematically abused by his grandmother (in voiceover flashback, she repeatedly called him dirty and disgusting, and a "filthy little beast," and threatened to cut off his erect penis with a pair of scissors, as she warned him: "If you ever make your bed dirty again, I'll cut it off"). The disturbed individual wore false teeth, was undoubtedly suffering from erectile dysfunction, and was obsessed with English poet and artist William Blake's painting of "The Great Red Dragon." He kept a scrapbook containing one of Freddy Lounds' most recent articles in the Tattler, titled: "INSANE FIEND CONSULTED IN 'TOOTH FAIRY' MURDERS - By Same Cop He Tried to Kill," with a picture, snapped by Lounds' photographer, of Graham leaving Lecter's detention facility. Dolarhyde marked over the face of Freddy Lounds with a red pen, and then turned to earlier pages in the book, where he appeared to revere his idol Lecter as a cannibalistic serial killer.

On his next visit to Lecter, Graham asked about the tree carving, identified as a Chinese character ("zhong") that appeared on a Mah-Jongg piece - the center piece translated in English as "the Red Dragon." Lecter quoted from an unknown poem: "A robin red breast in a cage, puts all Heaven in a rage" (later discovered to be from William Blake's Auguries of Innocence). They discussed how the Tooth Fairy was evolving and becoming a more-skillful murderer from crime to crime (in Birmingham, "it was only his first time, already in Atlanta he did much better"). Lecter asked about viewing the videos of the Leeds family, but was denied, and then asked impertinently: "Would you perhaps like to leave me your home number?" Later, Lecter was given ten minutes to phone his lawyer, and he cleverly connected to the University of Chicago and psychiatrist Dr. Bloom's office, and impersonated a publisher to obtain Will Graham's mailing/home address in Florida.

Graham researched William Blake's works, after identifying Lecter's short quote as a Blake poem, and discovered Blake's painting, "The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed With the Sun," an illustration of the opening verses of the Biblical book of Revelation, chapter 12. The early 19th century watercolor depicted a homicidal dragon waiting to devour the child born of the woman clothed with the sun. The dragon represented worldly power and the woman represented Israel, oppressed in her innocence by the wicked.

A subplot about Dolarhyde told of his work at the Chromalux Color Lab where the cleft-palated killer was employed as Head of Tech Services. The non-talkative and shy Francis developed an acquaintance with blind co-worker Reba McClane (Emily Watson), who lost her sight at age 7 due to diptheria. One rainy night after she was given a ride home by Francis, Reba asked to touch his face to determine if he was smiling or frowning, and when he responded awkwardly, she believed that she had offended him.

While Graham was in FBI Headquarters in Washington DC, Crawford informed him that a "fan letter" had been found hidden in Lecter's cell, presumably mailed to him from the Tooth Fairy. The letter showed a curious interest in Graham and made observations that he was "more alert, purposeful looking" than a "standard gumshoe." Crawford announced that the fan note needed to be thoroughly analyzed for prints, hair fibers, etc., and precautions were taken to avoid raising Lecter's suspicions as he was detained away from his cell during its interception and study. Part of the note of the admiring Dolarhyde to Lecter read: "The important thing is what I am becoming. I know that you alone can understand this transformation..."; he also complained about his distorted nickname - the Tooth Fairy (created by the Tattler).

The forensics experts determined that instructions for answering the note, written on toilet tissue, were torn out, although they guessed that they were planning to communicate through the Tattler publication's personal ads. The FBI intercepted Lecter's return personal Tattler column addressed: "DEAR PILGRIM," containing numerous coded Biblical citations: John 6:22, 8:16, 9:1. Luke 1:7..., although it was clear the book wasn't the Bible -- but it was definitely referencing a book Lecter kept in his cell. Crawford and Graham decided to risk publishing Lecter's column. Using the numerical references and a book of recipes in Lecter's cell, the code was solved: "Graham home, Marathon, Florida. Save yourself, Kill them all." Crawford phoned Graham to tell him the distressing news about how Lecter had provided the Tooth Fairy with his home address, but was unable to assure him, when he abruptly hung up, that his family members were being evacuated to Crawford's brother's remote farm as a precaution. Molly and Will were reunited at the farm for a brief time, where she took shooting lessons for self-protection.

Meanwhile, Freddy Lounds was arrested in Atlanta for using a fake FBI Bureau ID to access Leeds Family autopsy photos. With an indictment against Lounds, Crawford thought of a way to use him to lure the Tooth Fairy into a trap, by having Graham provide derogatory, untrue details about the homicidal serial killer for scandal-sheet publication - that he was ugly and impotent with members of the opposite sex, and that he sexually molested his male victims. There was also speculation that the killer was the product of an incestuous home, and that the Tooth Fairy was a "bottom-feeding lowlife" who insultingly considered himself in the same league as Lecter. With only ten days until the next full moon, the plan was to provoke the Tooth Fairy ("we've gotta rattle his cage") to seek out Graham in DC, with snipers and other protective forces ready to capture him. In the St. Louis area at a news-stand in the early morning hours, Dolarhyde purchased the latest Tattler publication, with a front-page story (and photo of Lounds with Graham together), entitled: "Top Sleuth Reveals LURID SECRETS," and "TOOTH FAIRY IMPOTENT."

At the National Tattler building in Chicago, Illinois, Freddy Lounds drove into the underground parking area, where he noticed that a large black van was occupying his reserved parking space. When he confronted the driver seated in the parked vehicle, he was headlocked, rendered unconscious, and kidnapped by the Tooth Fairy. When he awoke, the terrified Lounds realized he was stripped to his underwear, and glued to an antique wheelchair. Dolarhyde told him that he was "atoning" for what he had published, lies about how the Tooth Fairy was "a vicious, perverted sexual failure. A bottom-feeding lowlife who's about to go down in flames." Lounds pleaded for his life and suggested he could be ransomed by his publisher for as much as a million. Dolarhyde forced Lounds to open his eyes and view his fully-tattooed back side (with the design of Blake's Red Dragon), asking: "Do you want to know what I am?" He then projected slides of his latest female victims as they changed from human form to mutilated corpses (that he called "reborn") with mirror shards inserted into their eye sockets. Dolarhyde compelled Lounds to promise to recant his false allegations and tell the truth about him, his work, and his "becoming" ("I am the Dragon, and you call me insane. You are privy to a great becoming, but you recognize nothing. You are an ant in the afterbirth. It is in your nature to do one thing correctly. Before me, you rightly tremble. But fear is not what you owe me, Mr. Lounds. You owe me awe"), by the forced reading of a confession. Then suddenly, Dolarhyde clamped his toothy jaws around Lounds' mouth, chewed off his lips, and then set him ablaze in the wheelchair - his flaming corpse was rolled down an incline in front of the National Tattler office building. FBI agents listened to the tape recording before hearing agonizing sounds of Lounds being tortured ("He knows you made me lie, Will Graham. Because I was forced to lie, he will be more merciful to me than to you").

Graham suspected that there was more to learn in Baltimore from Lecter - there, he found the doctor's cell stripped of many comforts and privileges (his books, mattress, toilet seat, etc.). Lecter expressed how Graham's "first murder" (the disposal of Lounds) should have been enjoyed - "and why shouldn't it feel good. It does to God. Why, only last week in Texas, he dropped a whole church roof on the heads of 34 of his worshippers just as they were groveling for him." Lecter chillingly foretold the Tooth Fairy going after Graham's family: "First he kills the pet, then the family. Freddy was your pet." Graham repeatedly asked to confront the serial killer: "Put me next to him...Give him a chance to kill me." In exchange for full restoration of his privileges, plus computer access to the AMA archives, Lecter provided clues to help capture the Tooth Fairy -- "Transformation is the key. The man/dragon - his ugliness transformed by power. Look for a military record with combat training. Look for extensive tattooing and corrective surgery, most likely to the face." Graham became exasperated: "How is he choosing the women?" Cryptically, Lecter said that the answer was always in front of Graham: "You looked and didn't see" - and then upped the ante with a request for "dinner and a show."

On a surprise outing, Dolarhyde took Reba to an animal veterinary and had her touch the fur and listen to the heartbeat of a sedated tiger. They then went to his house, where they listened to phonograph records, and discussed how female co-workers found him "very mysterious and interesting" - with "a remarkable body." She then touched his sensitive face and kissed him on his harelip. While in her presence, he said he had work to do - watching a videotape (without sound) of the next family he was plotting to murder, as she edged closer to him on the sofa. When she became curious about his "homework," she asked what it was about and he replied: "Some people I'm going to meet." As he became turned on by the images of the bikinied mother in the family's home movies, he was also aroused by Reba next to him, as she said: "It's so important to be prepared" - and then was impressed when she touched his stimulated crotch, and moved lower to offer him fellatio (off-screen). The next morning, after sleeping together, he became distressed when he awoke and couldn't locate Reba (who was wandering outdoors). He attempted to stop the all-controlling, homicidal Dragon from possessing him (and instructing him to kill Reba) as he talked back to the Dragon pictured on a poster (from The Brooklyn Museum): "No, I won't give her to you." He begged for a little more time: "Please, just, just for a little while. You're hurting me. No. She's, she's nice. She's okay." His tortured soul almost brought him to commit suicide by blowing his brains out. He told Reba he was compelled to go away on a trip.

To attempt to stop his mania to kill, Dolarhyde's plan was to destroy the Red Dragon pictured in the original William Blake painting, located in New York City. Identifying himself as Mr. Crane who was working on his dissertation, he visited the museum and viewed Blake's original 200 year-old watercolor painting - a back view of the dragon with his tail wrapped around the woman. After striking and knocking out his female guide, he ripped up the painting into long strips and consumed it, and then attacked a second employee who entered the room.

Following up on the clue given him by Lecter ("You looked but didn't see"), Graham further examined the Jacobi personal effects, including their home movies. With sudden insight, he realized that the killer had thoroughly cased the victims' houses from their home videos, knowing the point of entry (including padlocks or panes of glass), the existence of pets, and more ("He knew the inside of the houses...he knew how to get in") - "Every goddamn thing he needed to know was on this...!" - the videotape box gave the name of the Film and Videotape Service company that had transferred the home movie to VHS tape - Chromalux, located in St. Louis, Missouri, the common denominator for both families, and the location of Dolarhyde's work where he had access to the films.

When Dolarhyde returned from his trip and was opening the door of his van parked at his place of work, he glimpsed Graham speaking to his boss in the company's office, and hurriedly fled. Crawford and Graham both demanded access to Chromalux's files to identify a white male, 25-35, right-handed, with brown hair and a strong build, and a possible facial disfigurement; in addition, he drove a van or panel truck. The boss quickly matched the description to an employee named Mr. D -- Francis Dolarhyde, who maintained the equipment for tape transfers, and had access to every tape that came through the company. Meanwhile, Dolarhyde had sought to locate Reba, and found her speaking to a co-worker named Ralph Mandy (Frank Whaley) at her doorstep after they had gone out for dinner. He cautioned her about Dolarhyde's moodiness and strange behavior before giving her an innocent goodnight kiss on the cheek. Dolarhyde became enraged while spying on them, shot Mandy point-blank in the forehead with a silencer, chloroformed and kidnapped Reba, and took her to his place. The crazed killer suspected that Reba had found something incriminating when she had wandered around his home. Although she didn't understand, he told her that the Dragon was back and wanted to kill her, but that he had tried to save her. However, now she was to blame: "You made me weak. And then you hurt me." He splashed gasoline on the floor, screamed out: "No, you can't have her," and then threatened Reba with a 12-gauge shotgun, as flames consumed the structure: "I wanted to trust you. You, you felt so good...It's all over for me...I can't leave you to him. Do you know what he'll do? He'll fight you to death. He'll hurt you so bad. I can't let that happen. It's better if you go with me...I'll shoot you and then myself...I have to shoot you..." - but he was unable to kill her. He apparently shot himself (off-screen) when a gunshot was heard and blood splattered on Reba's face. She escaped before being burned alive, as Crawford and Graham led units of police squad cars to Dolarhyde's residence and rescued her. They believed that Dolarhyde was dead, according to Reba's account.

Dolarhyde's scrapbook was retrieved from his safe, telling the tragic story of the serial killer's childhood with a despising grandmother who called him a "filthy little beast." Graham was saddened after reading the journal, and felt sorry for Dolarhyde, telling his wife Molly in his Florida home: "He wasn't born a monster. This guy was made one through years and years of abuse." Then, it was reported that the charred remains in the house were not Dolarhyde's, but were identified as from another Chromalux employee named Ralph Mandy (who wasn't reported missing for a week because he was scheduled for a vacation) -- Dolarhyde had staged his own death.

The film ended with Dolarhyde's surprise appearance at Graham's Florida home, signified first by broken mirrors. He held Graham's son Josh at knifepoint, threatening: "You son is about to change. Then your wife. You can watch. Then I'll take care of you." Graham smartly used insults he had read in the scrapbook that were used by the killer's grandmother against him ("You dirty little beast. You want me to cut it off?...Don't cry at me, you little faggot!"), in order to enrage Dolarhyde and have him release his son. Dolarhyde slashed at Graham with the knife as Josh escaped and ran off. At close-range, Graham and Dolarhyde shot at each other through a bedroom door, and both received severe wounds. The ordeal ended when Molly, who ducked between them and escaped getting hit, grabbed Will's gun and shot Dolarhyde in the forehead. Sirens were heard approaching from a distance.

After a period of recovery, Lecter wrote a letter to Graham (read in voice-over): "I hope you're not too ugly. What a collection of scars you have. Never forget who gave you the best of them, and be grateful. Our scars have the power to remind us that the past was real...Do you dream much, Will? I think of you often. Your old friend, Hannibal Lecter." The film's final short conversation was initiated by Dr. Chilton, who reminded Hannibal that he had a visitor who wished to speak to him and ask a few questions - "a young woman...from the FBI." Lecter was curious about the pretty female, asking: "What is her name?" [Clarice Starling, no doubt]

Film Notables (Awards, Facts, etc.)

The film was based on the 1981 best-selling novel of the same name by Thomas Harris, from a screenplay by Ted Tally (the scriptwriter for The Silence of the Lambs (1991)).

It was a remake of the earlier film, Manhunter (1986), directed by Michael Mann - see here. The title "Red Dragon" referred to William Blake's painting called The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed With the Sun.

Chronologically, the film was the first story in the Hannibal saga - a prequel to The Silence of the Lambs (1991).

With no Academy Award nominations.

With a production budget of $78 million, and box-office gross receipts of $93 million (domestic) and $209 million (worldwide).

Dr. Hannibal Lecter
(Anthony Hopkins)

Will Graham
(Edward Norton)

Jack Crawford
(Harvey Keitel)

Molly Graham
(Mary-Louise Parker)

Freddy Lounds
(Philip Seymour Hoffman)

Dr. Frederick Chilton
(Anthony Heald)

Francis Dolarhyde
(Ralph Fiennes)

Reba McClane
(Emily Watson)

Greatest Film Series Franchises - Sections
Series-Introduction - Index to All Films | Series-Box Office

Previous Page Next Page