Michael Mann’s MANHUNTER is a stylish crime thriller with teeth
Michael Mann’s 1986 crime thriller MANHUNTER remains one of the best efforts of his career. At the time he made the film, he was also producing the hit TV series Miami Vice and much of that show’s MTV style editing and contemporary aesthetic shows up. Based on the novel Red Dragon by Thomas Harris, Manhunter marked the first onscreen appearance of Hannibal Lecter, the character made most famous by Sir Anthony Hopkins in Jonathan Demme’s classic The Silence of The Lambs.
“It’s just you and me now, sport. And I’m going to find you, God damn it.”
In Manhunter, William Petersen stars as master FBI criminal profiler Will Graham, someone who is exceptional at his job, so much so that he suffers a mental breakdown. The Bureau’s latest case is a serial killer nicknamed “The Tooth Fairy”, and they send Graham’s former boss Jack Crawford (Dennis Farina) to his seaside home in Florida try to persuade him back into the field. We can see that Graham is still haunted by his past troubles but his conscience forces him to help since he knows innocent lives are at stake. He decides to visit the man who may be able to give him with clues about The Tooth Fairy’s motivations, his arch nemesis Hannibal Lecktor (Brian Cox) a brilliant and highly dangerous criminal who is being held in prison. Meanwhile, The Tooth Fairy aka Francis Dollarhyde, (Tom Noonan) continues his killing spree, but also finds love with a blind co-worker (Joan Allen) who has no knowledge about what he really is. The film combines the police procedural and the psychological thriller extremely well. Petersen’s intense performance as the tortured Will Graham is one of his best. Tom Noonan who had played only smaller parts before his role as Dollarhyde, is truly memorable with his unique, bleach blonde 80s New Waver look. It adds quite a strange dynamic to his character. Brian Cox’s take on Lecktor here is much more subdued and internal compared to Anthony Hopkins’ later more flamboyant portrayal (which I prefer), now regarded as one of cinema’s most loved villains. Manhunter’s greatest standout action sequence for me is set to the psychedelic rock song “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” by Iron Butterfly. The manner in which it’s shot, (employing slow motion and fast pacing) and edited like a kind of psychotic music video, is ultra creepy and cinematically enthralling. Several of the film’s cast members had previously worked with Mann before including stars William Petersen and Dennis Farina (both appear in Thief), Kim Griest (Miami Vice) and Stephen Lang (Band of The Hand, Crime Story). The movie’s title was originally to be RED DRAGON but producer Dino DeLaurentiis balked and wanted it changed due to fear it would follow the same fate as Michael Cimimo’s 1985 flop Year of the Dragon. Yet another reason was the fact it would sound more like a kung fu movie than a crime thriller. Make no mistake, even with its rather bland title, MANHUNTER is an 80s classic that is still far better than the remake by Brett Ratner called RED DRAGON.