BINGE-R #33: Hannibal + Five Came Back
Streaming Service: Stan
Availability: All 13 episodes now streaming
The idea of going back to Hannibal Lecter, the suspect zero of serial killer culture, for a television series made no sense to me. The chilling élan of Thomas Harris’ genius cannibal, vividly personified by Brian Cox in 1986’s Manhunter and Anthony Hopkins in 1991’s Silence of the Lambs, had been, well, done to death by sequels and spin-offs, let alone pedestrian imitators. I had that view in 2013, when Hannibal debuted, and even with the subsequent positive reviews I held onto it until last Saturday when I watched the first three episodes in rapt succession. It’s really, really good.
Hannibal is a show you immerse yourself in. It has a visual power derived from striking tableaus, where gore has the sheen of fine art – killings often happen off screen, but the aftermath is catalogued with care. In story terms it’s a prequel, introducing a gifted FBI profiler, Will Graham (Hugh Dancy), to the leading psychiatrist, Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen), who is meant to keep an eye on him as he investigates extreme murder cases. This Lecter is a brilliant polymath, from his surreptitious “fava beans with a nice chianti” era, and he begins as a colleague and even a confessor figure to Graham, whose extreme empathy allows him to experience, with disquieting specificity, the urges and acts of his monstrous targets.
The plot has an assuredness that is almost abrupt, and there’s a thrust to the dialogue that suits supporting players with their own agendas, such as Graham’s FBI superior, Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne), and duplicitous crime reporter Fredricka Lounds (Lara Jean Chorostecki). The brittle, almost overwhelmed nature of Dancy’s portrayal is in perfect contrast to Mikkelsen’s calculating aloofness, which is accentuated by the Dane’s high cheekbones and immaculate veneer; the only thing more stylised than the killing fields are Lecter’s gourmet meals.
Should the squeamish avoid it? Possibly, but part of Hannibal’s appeal is that creator Bryan Fuller (Pushing Daisies) has created a rarefied world that is a beat ahead of reality, marked by transformative moments touching on both the physical and psychological. Everything is a performance of one kind or another, and obviously the subsequent seasons are going to establish Graham and Lecter as adversaries (not to mention adding the likes of Gillian Anderson to the cast). I’m in for the long haul.
>> Bonus Binge: SBS on Demand has a selection of good movies that demonstrate Mads Mikkelsen’s compelling versatility: a wayward criminal in 2004’s Pusher 2, a rattled WWII resistance fighter in 2008’s Flame and Citron, a romantic lead in the 2012 period drama A Royal Affair, and an innocent man accused of a heinous crime in the same year’s The Hunt.
FIVE CAME BACK S1
Streaming Service: Netflix
Availability: All three episodes now streaming
Based on the 2014 book by Mark Harris, Five Came Back is an authoritative documentary about how five prominent Hollywood filmmakers – John Ford, William Wyler, Frank Capra, John Huston, and George Stevens – put aside their careers to work as frontline filmmakers during World War II. Mixing archival interviews, expert testimony from contemporary admirers, and footage which was often too brutal to exhibit at the time, Laurent Bouzereau’s work examines how creativity and privilege collided with duty and sacrifice at a time when one in two Americans went to the cinema at least once a week.
Narrated by Meryl Streep, the key to these three episodes is the use of current directors to offer observations, analysis, and occasional criticism, of their influences: Steven Spielberg is expansive on Wyler’s humanity and Paul Greengrass is eloquent is explaining Ford’s flaws and artistry, while Guillermo del Toro shows the immigrant’s roots in Capra’s commitment to America. As much as this is one rarefied circle of directors discussing a previous one, you don’t need to be familiar with their movies to appreciate the adept storytelling. “They put me behind a desk. It was ghastly,” recalls the hard-living Huston, but his output soon revealed the realities of warfare.
Stevens followed American forces across Europe and into Nazi Germany, where he would shoot footage of concentration camps that would screen at the Nuremberg trials, and Five Came Back makes clear the value of film as both a means of propaganda (Capra was worried about going up against Leni Riefenstahl) and historic record. The final section, documenting how WWII changed the director’s subsequent features, is a little rushed, but the weight of what they saw carries through. “Yes, we have nightmares,” Capra recalls, “but we also have dreams.”
>> Bonus Binge: Netflix has added a selection of the war-time documentaries seen in Five Came Back, including Ford’s The Battle of Midway, Stevens’ unsparing Nazi Concentration Camps, and Huston’s ground-breaking depiction of PTSD, Let There Be Light, which so scared the U.S. military that it was not shown publicly until 1981.
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