Reviewed by: Dave Murray
What's it about
Based on the Thomas Harris novel Red Dragon, Manhunter tells the story of retired FBI profiler Will Graham, and his unrelenting hunt for the monstrous serial killer "The Tooth Fairy". In order to stop a madman, Graham must think like him, and to do so he has to hand his battered psyche over to an even more enigmatic killer, a man whom Graham had almost died catching: The cannibalistic psychiatrist Hannibal Lecter!
Is it good movie?
Good goddamn, is it ever! Michael Mann's Manhunter still reigns as one of my favourite movies, despite the fact that this 1986 gem is the forgotten bastard stepchild of the movies based on Harris' novels featuring the calculating monster Hannibal Lecter. Sure the cinematography is a little more like Mann's Miami Vice than later thrillers in the series. Sure the music is horribly dated (with the exception of Iron Butterfly in the climax), and the hair and clothes really show this flick's 80's teeth in unflinching, hairspray teased glory. But for it's chilling and intricate portrayal of the minds of both the hunters and the hunted, this version is, in my opinion, far superior to Brett Ratner's derivitive 2002 take on the tale (made simply to have Anthony Hopkins reprise the role of Lecter).
A younger and leaner Brian Cox gives a chilling and low key performance as Lecter, which is much more in keeping with Harris' original portrayal of the legendary villain. In fact, some of his performance is more intellectual and funnier than Hopkins portrayal, giving Cox a higher mark on the creep scale ("Excuse me Operator, but I don't have the use of my arms"... that one kills me every time). Unlike later stories which feature Lecter as the primary source of evil (and in the recent books which feature the psycho as a sort of pseudo-hero), Harris' enigmatic creation doesn't have a lot to do with the story. He's merely a link to Graham's past and the catalyst for his process of hunting another killer. Much of the novel, and hence most of Mann's film, deals with the cat and mouse between the killer Dollarhyde (played with excellent creepiness by Tom Noonan... now that dude is freaky looking!) and Graham (played by William Peterson, who would later go on to fame as the lead on CSI). While Noonan's performance is downright scary, Peterson is a little overly dramatic and hammy. However, he does pull off the transformation his character goes through during his dangerous method of "becoming" the killer to catch him. Rounding out the cast is the always excellent Dennis Farina as FBI boss Crawford, and some of the best scenes are of Peterson and Farina playing off of each other as they run evidence on the "Tooth Fairy".
This print of the film looks good. It's clean and shows the cinematography very well. Also, Mann's use of light and colour, while dated as well, stand out nicely on DVD. The sound is a little grating though. Maybe 80's synthesizer music was not meant to be transfered into Dolby 5.1! But any way you slice and dice it, this is still a classic movie, and one that is rarely given its due thanks to Hopkins' later iconic portrayal of Lecter, and the extremely over hyped 2002 version. Serial killer novels and movies may be overdone these days, but much like Elliott Leyton's non-fiction and academic Hunting Humans (the first serious work done on the subject of serial killers), Thomas Harris' novels were groundbreaking and pioneering. And this movie, like Silence after it, was groundbreaking for its time, which you can see right away since it's still so damn watchable today.
Video / Audio
Video: Full Screen - 1.33:1.
Audio: English (Dolby Digital 5.1), Spanish and French (Mono) and subtitles in English, French and Spanish.
Other than the Original Trailer (and man, trailers rocked in the 80's), there is nothing else on the disc. Missing are the excellent features from the 2-disc director's cut, or from any other release of the film. Despite the fact that this cut of the film is probably the most complete (with a scene and dialogue not included in the so-called director's cut, the DVD itself is pretty bare, and that's a shame. As one of the best Harris adaptations (yes, it's right up there with Silence of the Lambs), I would have loved to have seen more behind the scenes shite here.
Still infinitely watchable, and featuring a different actor as Hannibal Lecter, Manhunter is one of those cinematic oddities of space and time. It's a kick ass movie, despite being dated in many ways. Mann's Miami Vice look and feel actually compliments the story, which is driven by some great actors. If you ignore the occasional curd of cheese, this movie sucks you in withjust as much intensity as Harris' novel, and is still superior to the 2002 "re-imagining". It's too bad MGM had to release it in such a shitty way (and in Full Screen too! The 2-disc set that was previously released was much better), but it is good to see some key scenes back in the flick. If this isn't already a part of your collection along with the other Hannibal films, shame on you!