Red Dragon is a 2002 psychological thriller film. It is the second adaptation of the Thomas Harris novel Red Dragon after 1986's Manhunter, and is framed as a prequel to the prior films The Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal.
In the 1980s, FBI profiler Will Graham (Edward Norton) discovers that his colleague, psychiatrist Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins), is the cannibalistic serial killer he has enlisted Lecter to help find. Graham survives Lecter's attempt to kill him, and Lecter is imprisoned. Some years later, Graham is dragged out of retirement by Jack Crawford (Harvey Keitel) to help catch another serial killer, the Tooth Fairy (Ralph Fiennes)...and he must consult with Lecter to do so.
- Adaptational Alternate Ending: This film has a nicer ending. The ending of the book implies that Molly is going to leave Graham, who is laid up in the hospital, largely unable to move and with a face that has been cut to shreds. We later hear from Starling's narration that he's become an alcoholic. In the film, Graham still has his family, not to mention Edward Norton's face.
- Adaptation Distillation: This film cut scorners in order to have a more clear focus, and includes a greater focus on the Lecter/Graham relationship and the mental state of the titular Red Dragon, Francis Dolarhyde.
- Alas, Poor Villain: Dolarhyde being far more clearly a victim of awful childhood trauma—who actually tried to grow beyond it as well—without a doubt makes him an extremely empathetic villain and it's because of that that while he has to die for the Grahams to be able to live, it's still unfortunate either way though.
- Attack Its Weak Point: Added into the climax of the film, which deviates a bit from the book. Instead of just attacking straight out, Dolarhyde takes Josh hostage. Graham, having already read Dolarhyde's Big Book of Crazy and knowing his Freudian Excuse, begins to criticize his adoptive son with the same words that Francis's grandmother used to use on him. It's the last nail in the coffin for Dolarhyde, who is not "a freak, but a man with a freak on his back": he begins to sympathize with his own intended victim, and throws Josh free so that he can fight the person he really hates. Which was Graham's plan all along, of course.
- Bittersweet Ending: The Grahams are clearly traumatized from all they've been through—as is Reba—and Dolarhyde ultimately had to die in order for his killing sprees to be stopped, but the Grahams still get to live and leave both Lecter and all that behind them moving forward—which is a much happier situation than the book though not as triumphant as it was with the other movie though. Also, Lecter while still imprisoned and was trying to get Graham killed before does seem willing to let Graham move on and live his life now too. However, the cycle is clearly about to begin all over again though as Chilton years later tells Lecter that "a young woman, says she's from the FBI" has come to see him too.
- Call-Forward: The movie ends with Hannibal being asked if he wants to see a female FBI inspector and ends with him saying: "What is her name?" This creates something of a Continuity Snarl since the film is set roughly eight years before Silence.
- The Cameo: Lalo Schifrin appears in the movie as a composer.
- Cannibalism Superpower: Hannibal Lecter invokes this to Will: "Such a brave boy. I think I'll eat your heart...".
- Chekhov's Skill: Reba's habit of counting steps saves her life when she's trapped in Dolarhyde's burning house—"three steps to the clock. From the clock to the door, nine more."
- Distant Prologue: After Lecter attacks Graham but Graham still manages to subdue him, the rest of the story—Graham's hospitalization and retirement, Lecter's trial and sentencing—is told through newspaper clippings during the credits. The film then picks up "several years later."
- "Eureka!" Moment: How Graham realizes Lecter is the Chesapeake Ripper: Graham found a cookbook in Lecter's office with a note for "sweetbreads" (the culinary name for the thymus, an organ removed from a Ripper victim) written on the margins.
- Foreshadowing: Lecter continues his habit of multi-layered clues during Graham's second visit by quoting: "A Robin Red breast in a Cage Puts all Heaven in a Rage." On the surface, this merely reflects Graham's frustrations with the case... but when he has this quote referenced, it's from the poem "Auguries of Innocence" by William Blake. The librarian immediately refers Graham to a book of Blake's artwork, where Will sees the story's eponymous painting.
- Mythology Gag:
- During the first scene we see Francis Dolarhyde, he's wearing a mask that covers his eyes. This is a reference to Tom Noonan's Red Dragon costume in Manhunter, which includes a stocking worn over the head like a mask. Later, the suit that he wears when he goes to eat the original "Red Dragon" painting is modeled after William Petersen's appearance in Manhunter.
- At the end of Red Dragon Hannibal is informed of a young female FBI agent who wants to question him.
- Period Piece: Cars and set pieces clearly date the movie to circa 1990, since it's a prequel to The Silence of the Lambs.
- Sequel Hook: This film features a scene set an unspecified amount of time after the events of the Tooth Fairy case, with Dr. Frederick Chilton telling Hannibal Lecter that he has a visitor from the FBI looking to investigate what the audience knows is the Buffalo Bill case. Lecter then asks for her name, setting up The Silence of the Lambs as an Immediate Sequel.
- Shut Up, Hannibal!: Indirect, but Graham crumbles up and throws Lecter's final letter to him out of the boat after reading it. This likely means he won't accept his correspondence anymore at this point.
- Spared by the Adaptation: Freddy Lounds, sort of. He gets set on fire by Dolarhyde, and in the book survives for the better part of the day before finally succumbing. Although he also dies in the film, it's within minutes of the attack, meaning he is at least spared the extended suffering of his book counterpart.
- Wolverine Publicity: Hannibal Lecter is a somewhat minor character in this story, with Dolarhyde being the real antagonist. However, Lecter's face takes up about 2/3rds of the film's poster/cover.