Ratner’s long, strange trip to ‘Red Dragon’

When Universal premiered “Red Dragon” Monday in Gotham’s Grand Central Station for an A-list crowd, director Brett Ratner was in his element — bouncing from one conversation to another not with the detached coolness of most directors, but with exuberance and goofy charm.

That affability, coupled with his Sammy Glick-like ascent and the supermodels that always seem to be in his orbit, have often led to questions about Ratner’s skill level, even as he’s become a commercial force.

Judging by the industry reaction to his deft handling of dark material, Ratner’s for real. And he’s moving quickly from Hannibal Lecter to two more icons: Superman and the Rolling Stones. While he tackles the former, Ratner is eying the 40th anniversary tour Stones tour as the backdrop of a pic he wants to make at Universal, with Mick Jagger producing with Ratner and his partner, Jay Stern.

In the early 1990s, Jagger gave Ratner his first film meeting in Hollywood, telling him about a pic Ben Stiller tried to make with Brad Pitt about fans who try to crash a Stones concert. Fearing the Stones might be making their concert curtain call, Ratner hatched a project revolving around the band.

“This is my version of an Altman film — six characters revolving around the tour — and I’ve gone to Wes Anderson, begging him to write it for me,” Ratner said. That he’s open about cribbing Altman is pure Ratner, who said it’s not coincidence that “Red Dragon” is closer in tone to “Silence of the Lambs” than Lecter pics “Hannibal” or “Red Dragon’s” original, “Manhunter.”

“When I see movies by people my age like Paul Thomas Anderson or Wes, I can tell you which scenes in older movies they referenced for specific shots, whether it’s Robert Downey Sr. or Robert Altman,” Ratner said. “I’m very good at copying. When I made ‘Rush Hour,’ ’48 Hours,’ ‘Midnight Run’ and ‘Beverly Hills Cop’ helped me decide what to do. When Stacey Snider sent me the ‘Red Dragon’ script, I thought, why me? I don’t do dark, and there were voices in my head saying ‘you suck compared to Michael Mann, Ridley Scott and Jonathan Demme.’ But I decided this was about characters and should be like ‘Silence of the Lambs.’ Jonathan said, ‘I can’t wait to see your version, and if you’re looking for the Godfather’s blessing, you’ve got it.”

Ratner didn’t dwell on measuring up to the stylistic imprint Mann put on “Red Dragon” with “Manhunter,” even though the periodic trips a teenage Ratner made to the “Miami Vice” set persuaded him to be a director. “That movie did $6 million in box office, and in terms of the marketplace right now, nobody has seen it except fans like me and you,” Ratner said.

RATNER’S PLUCK COMES FROM the unlikely origins of his film career. He finished high school at 16 and went right to the admissions office of NYU because Scorsese went there. “I didn’t factor in academics, and I’d never gone to class because I was watching or making movies,” he said. Told to prove himself in community college, a dejected Ratner took one last shot before returning home. “I went to the dean’s office, said it was an emergency, and somehow got five minutes,” Ratner said. “I told him my dream was to be a film director and that if he didn’t let me in, I’d be living on my mom’s couch in Miami the rest of my life.” The dean surprisingly watched his films, and Ratner was accepted.

“Taking that chance was the defining moment in my life,” he said. “I never accepted no for an answer since.” So it wasn’t surprising that Ratner eventually charmed Steven Spielberg and Kathleen Kennedy into funding his student film even though they only gave to USC students. He impressed Brian Grazer enough to get a job offer.

“Brian said, ‘Be my assistant for $22,000, and someday you’ll be a big producer,'” Ratner recalled. “I said, ‘You don’t understand, I’m a director.’ ‘Fine,’ he said, ‘$24,000.’ I say, ‘Brian, I want to be Ron Howard, not a producer.’ ‘$27,000,’ he said. Finally, he said, ‘I’ve got another meeting. Good luck. When I got my first movie, he couldn’t believe it. ‘You’re really a director,’ he said.”

The key, Ratner said, is that he’s got a voluminous knowledge of films and has no pretense about admitting he’s overmatched. “Red Dragon” scripter Ted Tally said Ratner was meticulously prepared and exceedingly collaborative. “People remember me as this little hustler, but I was always a filmmaker, always learning,” Ratner said. “When I got an agent and they wanted me to meet all these studio guys, I refused until I’d shot 100 videos and knew I was ready. If you watched my student film, you’d never believe the same guy did ‘Red Dragon.’ I am very aware of my limitations.”

More Film

  • Themba Ntuli and Ashley Lazarus

    Ashley Lazarus, Director of Apartheid-Era Cult Classic, Returns to Screen

    DURBAN–Director Ashley Lazarus, whose film about the interracial friendship between two young boys during the apartheid era became a South African cult classic in the 1970s, is set to return to the big screen with a film that builds on his life-long passion for early-childhood education. “Teacher Wanted” is the inspirational story of a teacher [...]

  • Channing Tatum

    Channing Tatum's Free Association Partners With Atwater Capital for Film Development Fund

    Free Association, a production company led by Channing Tatum, Peter Kiernan and Reid Carolin, has entered into a film development fund with Atwater Capital. The four-year $2 million revolving fund stipulates that Atwater will finance a minimum of five films with Free Association. Michael Parets, VP of production, will oversee the deal. Free Association will [...]

  • Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

    Box Office: Tarantino's 'Once Upon a Time in Hollywood' Takes on 'Lion King'

    Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth, Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt’s characters in Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” will have to take on much more than a changing showbiz landscape. This weekend, the washed-up actor and his majordomo are battling Disney’s juggernaut “The Lion King” at the domestic box office. Tarantino’s R-rated auteur [...]

  • Margot Robbie Once Upon a Time

    Margot Robbie Says 'Barbie' Movie Will Put 'Positivity' Into the World

    Over the last 10 years, Margot Robbie has stepped into the skates of Tonya Harding, taken up the mantle of Harley Quinn and, next up, she’s playing the world’s most famous doll, Barbie. The live-action film is due out in 2020 and set to be written by Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach, while Robbie serves [...]

  • 2018 NALIP Gala

    National Association of Latino Independent Producers Celebrates Its 20th Anniversary

    Ben Lopez has seen the future of the entertainment industry, and says it is the Latinx community. “In the next 20 years, we’re going to be prioritized — because not only will we have the numbers demographic-wise, we’ll have the spending power,” says Lopez, the executive director of the National Assn. of Latino Independent Producers, [...]

  • 'Patrick Melrose' TV show premiere

    Benedict Cumberbatch, Claire Foy to Star in 'Louis Wain'

    Benedict Cumberbatch (“Avengers: Endgame”) and Claire Foy (“The Crown”) are set to star in “Louis Wain,” a biopic of the prolific English artist who rose to prominence at the end of the 19th century. “Louis Wain” will start shooting on Aug. 10 with BAFTA-nominated Will Sharpe (“Flowers”) directing the film, which was written by Sharpe [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content