Before Silence of the Lambs, there was Manhunter and it was glorious. Based on the 1981 novel Red Dragon by Thomas Harris, this is a moody and dark thriller about the notorious serial killer known as The Tooth Fairy. And the man hunting him, Will Graham. I remember watching all four subsequent movies a couple of times, completely missing out on this one. It starts like one of the worst C productions eighties could offer. However, trust the Dino De Laurentis sigil and you shall be rewarded. Something that will become apparent as soon as the night falls a couple of minutes later. We will learn that director Micheal Mann loves those hanging, atmospheric shots with beautiful colors. They are simply mesmerizing and quite bold.
The first thing that’s going to come up when you mention Manhunter is the next movie in the Hannibal Lecter franchise, Silence of the Lambs. And while Silence is definitely a better movie, that doesn’t mean this one is a bad one. It’s different, visually impressive, and more reminiscent of the seventies noir movies like Night Moves. The focus is mostly on our retired FBI agent Graham, putting us in his shoes as he’s trying to piece together this impossible puzzle. The first forty minutes feel a bit disjointed and slow but once Manhunter starts gaining momentum it gets progressively better and better. You have to remember that these are the eighties and profiling is still this new thing that no one ever heard of. I will refer you to one of the best television shows about this Mindhunter.
Former FBI agent Will Graham is enjoying his retirement, living with his family in a large house on the beach. However, a visit from his former boss pulls him back into the fray. After putting one vicious serial killer behind bars, it’s time to put another one, even more brutal. Dubbed The Tooth Fairy, he already killed two families with no intention of stopping. And so the hunt begins.
You might remember William Petersen from CSI, a man who made two cult classics in the eighties and then fell off the radar. To Live and Die in L.A. is an even better movie than this one, a much darker noir masterpiece that’s always worth revisiting. Manhunter is probably the only movie about serial killers and detectives without any gore! Yes, believe it or not, but this movie does not feature a single severed limb or brutal murder. It’s all about that game of cat and mouse between the killer and detective. And the toll it leaves on the cat. You can see how this whole subgenre emerged from movies like this.
Apart from Petersen, we also have glorious Brian Cox as Dr. Hannibal Lecktor giving one hell of a creepy performance. I should also mention a real-life detective Dennis Farina who plays Jack Crawford. The guy retired from the police force just one year prior to filming this movie. And I ain’t even gonna talk about how fucked up Tom Noonan was. The man not only acts the part but he looks the part so well. Too bad we didn’t get those infamous tattoos who director thought were “too over-the-top”. Some things, he, however, fucking nailed. Like that scene with the tiger, pure gold. And that was a real tiger by the way. It shows just how much symbolism is present in Manhunter.
The story unfolds at a slower pace, leaving us room to breathe and think not only about the detective but also the killer. We get the opportunity to immerse ourselves completely in their minds, their fucked up and gruesome minds. All this is accompanied by stunning cinematography that will simply blow you away. The play of colors and the dance of light and dark is something that’s sorely missing from modern thrillers. They are more streamlined and focused on the action. Luckily, we have these good old ones to enjoy.
Director: Michael Mann
Writers: Thomas Harris, Michael Mann
Cast: William Petersen, Dennis Farina, Joan Allen, Brian Cox, Tom Noonan, Stephen Lang, Kim Greist
Fun Facts: Brian Cox said in the DVD interview that he based his portrayal of Dr. Hannibal Lecktor on Scottish serial killer Peter Manuel.