Directed by Michael Mann.
Starring William Petersen, Brian Cox, Kim Greist, Joan Allen, Dennis Farina, Tom Noonan, Stephen Lang, David Seaman and Benjamin Hendrickson.
A mentally fragile FBI profiler is drawn out of retirement to catch a serial killer known as The Tooth Fairy.
“It’s interesting that [Michael] Mann trimmed out some of the more excessive parts of the novel, and made a much more simmering film,” stated Brian Cox (Adaptation) who was chosen over Brian Dennehy (Presumed Innocent), John Lithgow (The Pelican Brief), and Mandy Patinkin (The Princess Bride) to portray the incarcerated Dr. Hannibal Lecter (respelled Lecktor for the movie) in the cinematic adaptation of Red Dragon by Thomas Harris. “I knew it was one of those great roles that demanded, above all, a sense of dexterity, a lightness of touch, and speed because he’s quite an intellectual.” Not all the literary moments made it onto the big screen. “I particularly liked the bit where he [Francis Dollarhyde] eats the painting. They didn’t do it in Manhunter, but I loved it in the book.” Cox appreciated that Mann did not rely entirely on gore to tell the story. “He succeeded in implying evil rather than showing it.” The actor does have one problem with the approach utilized by the Chicago-born moviemaker. “I was never a fan of 80s music so the score always dates the film for me.”
Every time Brian Cox revisits the thriller he is captivated by the “wrought and tight” performance of his co-star. “Will Graham, the character I play in Manhunter, is a former FBI forensic expert who retired because of the strain it took to do his job,” explained William Petersen whose cinematic persona seeks the advice of Lecter in an effort to understand the motive for the murders. Commenting on Michael Mann, the actor stated, “His vision is the movie, not that he isn’t collaborative; Michael spends a tremendous amount of time before his movies creating how the movie is going to be. I’ve never experienced that amount of detail from any other director.” There is reason for the meticulous preparation. “Francis Dollarhyde purchased everything that is in his house so it becomes an expression of character,” remarked Mann who was assisted by his cast in conveying a sense of authenticity. “Dennis [Farina] was a detective in Chicago, and he knew the world really well. We had a lot of cooperation from the FBI so Billy spent a bunch of time with them.” Actress Joan Allen (The Bourne Supremacy) visited the New York Institute for the Blind and walked blindfolded through the city to prepare for her role as the blind co-worker who becomes romantically involved with the serial killer. “I wanted to feel this guy was doing the best he could; that he was doing this out of love,” stated Ted Noonan (Synecdoche, New York) who plays Dollarhyde. “I was really wound up. I was doing 50 push-ups between each take, and we were doing take after take.” The effort did not go unnoticed as Mann decided to remove the tattoo, which gave the book its name, and reshoot scenes halfway through the principle photography. “Noonan was such a powerful actor and terrific in the role; he took it so seriously that he didn’t need props like a gigantic dragon tattoo on him. It actually distracted from what he was able to do. It’s there in every gesture, how he holds his hands, [and] how he takes his sunglasses off.”
“There’s nothing in Manhunter which is just a nice shot,” remarked Dante Spinotti (L.A. Confidential) who was responsible for the cinematography. “[It’s] all focused into conveying that particular atmosphere; whether it’s happiness, or delusion or disillusion.” William Petersen agrees with Spinotti; he stated that the visual aura was designed so that “people would be drawn into the beauty of the film and the story would work underneath.” Brian Cox remarked, “Its way ahead of its time. CSI and all those programs have all virtually ripped that off, in an amazing, successful way.” Ironically, the $15 million production was not a major box office success as it grossed $9 million; it competed for Best Picture at the Edgar Allan Poe Awards and Michael Mann won the Critics Award at the Cognac Festival du Film Policier. “The way the cult status gathered was quite fascinating, because it was all by default,” explained Cox. “When it opened, we had great reviews and we should have gone on. It would have been great if we’d opened in a lot of cities, because it would have been seen. But it couldn’t be seen; there weren’t enough prints of it. That’s purely what it was. [Dino] De Laurentiis went into liquidation, and there were a lot of problems with getting stuff made.”
Though Brian Cox originated the role of Dr. Hannibal Lecter, Anthony Hopkins is best remembered for his Oscar-winning portrayal of the cannibalistic psychiatrist in The Silence of the Lambs (1991). “They’re two different animals,” remarked Cox who based his performance on real life Scottish serial killer Peter Manuel. “It’s like comparing two Hamlets, or two Lears. I thought the interesting thing about doing the film, is that Tony decided to play it in a certain kind of way. He stood in the middle of the cell, and was completely upfront about who he was. I start the scene with my back to the audience, so I can pull them in. I’m trying to seduce the audience in an entirely different way. Whereas Tony’s there, he’s an indefatigable force.” Hopkins reprised the role in Hannibal (2001) and Red Dragon (2002), which revisited the source material covered by Manhunter. “The only thing that went wrong – and this has absolutely nothing to do with Tony, because I think his performance was tremendous – was the franchise element. I thought that where Hannibal Lecter worked was as a character with mystery.”
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Trevor Hogg is a freelance video editor and writer who currently resides in Canada.