tv review – NBC’s Hannibal, season 1

Hannibal Lecter’s an icon. If you haven’t read the Thomas Harris novels, then at least you know Sir Anthony Hopkins’ portrayal of the character from thriller classic The Silence of the Lambs, its uneven sequel Hannibal or surprisingly solid effort Red Dragon. Hopkins played Lecter as a fast-talking, hissing, psychiatrist cannibal and everyone loved him for it. This could’ve been a hurdle: how to top this high-profile iteration? The answer: by presenting audiences with an entirely different take.

NBC’s Hannibal takes place during the time dr. Lecter was still a practising psychiatrist, a period only alluded to in the source material. This Lecter, portrayed by Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen (Casino Royale, The Hunt), is a sophisticated and dashing figure, very polite and intelligent, loved by everyone who knows him. Right away it’s a fresh breath of air, an exercise in restraint and the cerebral. This Hannibal keeps up appearances and Mikkelsen steers clear of the exaggerated with phenomenal acting: most of the time only using eye movements or a turn of his head to express what Lecter’s really thinking.

But just like the movies and novels this series really isn’t about the cannibal everyone knows. Hannibal is about special agent Will Graham, a man sought out for and tormented by his ability to assume the position of the most deranged killers. He’s assigned an especially gruesome case in the first episode, the ramifications of which will be enormous. Hugh Dancy (Martha Marcy May Marlene, Our Idiot Brother) plays the haunted man, who’s pushed to his limits and on the verge of a mental breakdown when we meet him. Just like Mikkelsen, Dancy uses nods, blinks and body language to convey much of his inner turmoil. It’s often terrifying, but it’s always a joy to watch. When Graham and Hannibal first share the screen, both looking for a serial killer called the Minnesota Shrike in the first episode, you know you’re in for a treat.

But Hannibal‘s acting isn’t the only aspect that sets it apart: the direction and writing are outstanding and the reason the actors have so much to work with. Showrunner Bryan Fuller (Dead Like Me, Pushing Daisies) has a clear vision for the show, which results in a unique tone: heightened reality with a dash of the gothic and a hint of the sardonic. Director David Slade (Hard Candy, 30 Days of Night) creates a visual palette to go along with it and the result is a series that does not only look beautiful, but really has carved out a niche of its own. NBC’s Hannibal is equal parts police procedural, drama, horror and psychological thriller, and all these ingredients make for a perfect dish.

Hannibal‘s smart, gruesome, intense, sometimes sad, but always beautiful in its own way, much like the character itself. Outstanding television. 9/10

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