Directed by Michael Mann.
Starring William Petersen, Brian Cox and Tom Noonan.
Based on the novel Red Dragon, FBI profiler Will Graham reluctantly comes out of retirement to lead the hunt for an elusive serial killer dubbed “The Tooth Fairy”. To aid him in his efforts, Graham seeks out the advice of Dr Hannibal Lecktor, a cannibalistic serial killer whose apprehension left Graham mentally and physically scarred. Lecktor, however, is also a brilliant psychiatrist, whose psychological insight could prove vital in catching the killer before he can strike again.
Leaping from the pages of Thomas Harris’s novels to screens, both big and small, Hannibal Lecter has over for 30 years cemented his place as one of horror’s most terrifying and charming monsters. However, while we may talk about how iconic the performance of Anthony Hopkins was, or how visually stunning (not to mention brilliant) the short-lived television show was, people are often quick to forget the cannibalistic connoisseur’s first big screen outing. I am, of course, referring to Michael Mann’s cult classic Manhunter which first introduced filmgoers to the devilish Dr Lecter (or ‘Lecktor’ in this version).
The cast is excellent throughout, led by a brilliant and understated performance from William Peterson as Will Graham. Petersen portrays Graham as a man granted the gift of being able to get into the minds of monsters, but at a massive cost to his mental well-being, barely avoiding becoming a monster himself. A scene in which he attempts to get into the mindset of the “Tooth Fairy”, watching home movies of the latest victims, is particularly disturbing, with Graham almost seeming to enjoy the process.
Tom Noonan is also brilliant as the elusive “Tooth Fairy” the moniker of serial killer Francis Dollarhyde. A towering, gaunt figure, Noonan certainly presents a terrifying image of a murderous monster. Yet once he finds love with a blind co-worker, we begin to feel sympathy for him as his twisted mind attempts to process these new feelings, while struggling to keep his murderous impulses in check, with Noonan portraying this struggle brilliantly, often with limited dialogue.
Brian Cox portrays Hannibal Lecktor in a much more restrained fashion than his more popular successor; we don’t have any spooky anecdotes about eating livers in this incarnation.Cox’s Lecktor is an intelligent, arrogant, fast talking man, quick to mock Graham while helping him in his efforts and keen to point out their similarities and the investigator’s real reason for seeking his guidance, much to Graham’s horror.
While not necessarily as scary as his successor, Cox still manages to excel in gradually getting deeper under your skin in every minute of his relatively short screen time, feeling like a more realistic and believable depiction of a monster hiding beneath a mask of humanity.
Being this is a Michael Mann film, Manhunter has some striking and beautiful visuals, with a heavy emphasis on colours. We have deep blues for tender moments between Graham and his wife, we have Dollarhyde sitting ominously bathed in dark greens and we have stark whites of the barren cell of Hannibal Lecktor, with all the colours being used brilliantly used to add to the films overpowering and stylish atmosphere.
The brilliant visuals are complimented by an excellent soundtrack, with both the film’s score and carefully selected tracks only adding to the films stylish and dark atmosphere. With the clear favourite for me the use of Iron Butterfly’s lengthy hit In A Gadda Da Vida being used for the film’s bullet-strewn finale, the perfect music for a violent end to a violent story.
Manhunter is in my opinion, the best entry in the Hannibal franchise, getting the balance right in using the character to scare viewers, but not overusing him to the point where he starts to lose his sinister edge. Spearhead by excellent performances from the cast, especially Petersen, the film acts as a brilliant showcase of director Mann’s unique visual flair and is easily one of the best in the filmmaker’s long career behind the camera.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★