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I went back and rewatched The Silence of the Lambs last week before seeing Hannibal.  It is pretty much a perfect film.  It combines a great story with great direction. And the cast has a nice chemistry, primarily between Jodie Foster as FBI agent Clarice Starling and Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter the serial murderer.  So now we have a sequel and that is always a dicey proposition.  Actually,  The Silence of the Lambs is a sequel, itself. The first book in the series, Red Dragon, was made into a movie called Manhunter.  I read the third installment, Hannibal, when it came out and I thought it was a very good story until the last ten pages of the book at which point I hurled it across the room.  The ending made no sense to me and apparently to most other people as well. And it was rumored to be the reason that Jodie Foster turned down the chance to reprise her role as Starling in the new film.  Anthony Hopkins, on the other hand, was happy to sign on for another go as Hannibal the Cannibal.  Replacing Foster is Julianne Moore, one of the hardest working and most accomplished actresses in Hollywood.  She was nominated for Oscars for The End of the Affair and Boogie Nights. Anyway,  Hannibal is a sequel and one of the two stars who made the first film a success is not in it. On top of that, the initial reviews I read were lukewarm.  With my expectations thus set to a low level, I went to see Hannibal and I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. It was really very good.  And they have changed the ending from the book.  This film picks up about 10 years after the action in The Silence of the Lambs.  Lecter is now living in Florence working as an art expert.  Starling is still with the FBI but her career is on the skids thanks to a Justice Department official (Ray Liotta) who is out to get her. One of Lecter's victims, Mason Verger (Gary Oldman), the only one still alive, is actively searching for his attacker so that he can wreak revenge.  Meanwhile, in Florence a police detective (Giancarlo Giannini) has identified Lecter and wants to claim the reward rather than arrest him.  Lecter escapes in typical bloody fashion and returns to America to keep an eye on his favorite person, Starling.  Not too give too much plot away but in the ensuing action, Starling must first rescue Lecter from the clutches of Verger and then be rescued herself, leading to one of the grossest scenes in movie history.  If you read the book, you'll know what I'm talking about.  Other than this one scene at the end, the amount blood and gore isn't any higher than your average action film.  And the new ending is a lot more palatable, so to speak, making Hannibal a more satisfying story.  Hopkins is great again in the title role. He clearly relishes it.  Moore does a very good job as the older world-weary Starling and one doesn't think too much about Jodi Foster.  Moore doesn't try to look or act exactly like Foster, even retaining her trademark red hair.  Oldman does an amazing job as Verger. He is completely unrecognizable with his scarred face but uses his voice to create a very creepy character.  Giannini has some of the best scenes in the movie as he plays cat and mouse with Lecter in Florence.  This film is shot with a lot of style and nice pace by Ridley Scott who is one of the best. He has previously directed  Gladiator, Thelma & Louise, Blade Runner and Alien.  He is nominated this year for an Oscar for directing Gladiator.  The film also benefited from a couple of famous script doctors, David Mamet and Steven Zaillian.  Following up a great film with a sequel is always difficult but this is among the best. Close your eyes if you have to but go see it.