Few Hollywood missions of recent years were more daunting than making a credible sequel to The Silence of the Lambs, yet Hannibal manages and then some. Taking his cues from Thomas Harris’ hugely anticipated novel, Scott plays up the dark love story hinted at but never fully explored in Lambs, as FBI Special Agent Clarice Starling (Julianne Moore, capably stepping into Jodie Foster’s formidable shoes) finds herself lured back into the orbit of the grandiloquent psycho Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins). Ten years after the events of the previous film, one of Lecter’s vengeful victims—the disfigured child molester Mason Verger (Gary Oldman)—tries to use Starling to lure the fugitive Lecter out of hiding, so that he can, in turn, feed the good doctor to dogs (or, rather, a pack of voracious wild boars). But Lecter is, as usual, several steps ahead of even the clever Clarice, culminating in a touching dual act of romantic heroism and a dinner date that gives new meaning to the phrase “you are what you eat.” At every step, Hopkins plays his signature character with the amused, lip-smacking perfection of Noel Coward in his prime, in a movie that is, in every respect, vastly better than it has any right to be.
“The movie, handsomely photographed by John Mathieson, lives in the shadows and in subtle shades of temptation. Lecter, for instance, is tempted by Clarice's purity; he needs to devour it, if only to see if he has the will to spit it out. Caressing her hair is not enough. Can the vampire kiss the virgin? Can she resist? These, not the grotty little murders, are the crucial, thrilling issues at Hannibal's dark heart.” —Richard Corliss, Time