Manhunter is a 1986 film directed by Michael Mann and is based on the book Red Dragon (the title of the film was changed by producer Dino De Laurentiis, as he felt people would think it was a karate movie, Mann and most of the cast hate the title) written by Thomas Harris. The film comes to Blu-ray for the first time on 26th of September 2011 from Studio Canal (formerly Optimum releasing). The first thing that needs to be said is, I was genuinely shocked at how good the picture quality is, from years of watching a grain filled copy I had on DVD, I was expecting a slight upgrade, but was amazed by how good this looks. The film stars William Petersen, Brian Cox, Joan Allen, Kim Greist and Tom Noonan. Its the first time iconic film character, Hannibal Lecktor (not a spelling mistake, that’s how they spell it in the film), appeared on our screens and no, he was not played by Antony Hopkins.
Here is the big elephant in the room with this film, and it’s fair that I get my opinion on it out there now. I don’t like Silence of the Lambs, and the reasons I don’t like The Silence of the Lambs are that I do not share the opinions of most that Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins are fantastic in their respective roles. I find Jodie Foster’s character to be one of the most simpering and pathetic characters in movie history and I find Anthony Hopkins portrayal of Hannibal Lector far too cartoonish, and in no way sinister. What is also unfair when making the comparison of the first two Lector films is, Thomas Harris wrote The Silence of the Lambs after Manhunter had been released, so you could argue that part of the character development of Lector was done by Brian Cox. Anyway with that out of the way I’ll get back to Manhunter.
The film focuses on the character of Will Graham (William Petersen), a former FBI agent who has retired after his capturing of cannibalistic serial killer, Dr. Hannibal Lecktor (Brian Cox) almost cost him his life. When a new serial killer appears, Will’s former FBI superior Jack Crawford (Dennis Farina) pleads for Will’s assistance in the case, believing that Will has the ability to get into the mindset of the killers, and that this will be vital in the quick capture of this new killer, the Tooth Fairy, who plans his murders around the lunar cycle. Will agrees against his wife, Molly Grahams (Kim Greist), wishes, as she does not want him getting hurt again. Will visits the houses of the victims and finds that he can relate to the killer far too easily, and this gives him an insight which helps him find clues that other detectives have missed.
Will however, knows that there is somebody else out there who can help him crack this case, and decides that he needs to face his demon, he needs to go see Hannibal Lecktor. There is no long corridor with dungeon like walls in this film, that’s not Michael Mann’s style. Here is where we as a film audience are first introduced to Lecktor, who Cox based on Scottish psychopath serial killer Peter Manuel. This incarnation of Lecktor is more nasty and arrogant in its tone, there is no joviality or playfulness to Cox’s Lecktor, as there is with Hopkins version. Lecktor seems angry at the sight of Will and sees his capture by Will as a failure of his intelligence, this seems to hurt his ego. Lecktor agrees to look at the files as he sees it as a way of getting to Will. Will is being dragged further into the case as time goes by and when tabloid journalist Freddie Lounds (Stephen Lang), runs the story that Will is investigating the Tooth Fairy killings it attracts the attention of this new killer.
What is striking about this film is how stylistic it is, at the time Manhunter was made Michael Mann was best known as the executive producer of TV show Miami Vice. Mann had only directed two feature films up to this point, Thief, a James Caan starring noir-esq film, and The Keep, a surprisingly good horror film starring Scott Glenn, Gabriel Byrne and Ian McKellen. Neither of these films had set the box office alight, or showcased that grand sweeping style that we now so closely associate with a Michael Mann film. This is the first film that feels like a Michael Mann film. It’s dripping with style, and all the sets are crisp and perfect looking, all these houses look like they are tended to by the most thorough of cleaning crews. Mann has this calm way of pacing his films, the story never feels rushed and his ability to make the plot flow naturally is why he is now considered one of the most assured and confident filmmakers of his time.
On release a major criticism of the film is the performance of its leading man, William Petersen as Will Graham, and to be honest you can see why. Its not a terrible performance, but at times it feels very forced and like Petersen is remembering lines, and this loss of natural-ness is juxtaposed with the assured performance of Brian Cox, who is superb as Lecktor, and Tom Noonan’s brilliantly creepy performance as Francis Dollarhyde “The Tooth Fairy”. As much as I rate Cox in this film, it’s Noonan who steals the show, and after the effort he put into creating the character, it should be. Noonan refused to speak to or be seen by any other members of the cast until they were performing their scenes together, feeling that this would heighten the surprise and fear they characters were supposed to feel when in his presence.
This film has been in the shadows of its successor for far too long and hopefully this Blu-ray will make people take notice of one of the great forgotten films. It’s not even based on the same book as the film its often compared to. Oh, and it’s better than Brett Ratner’s Red Dragon as well, although if you could swap cast, Hopkins & Fiennes not included, you’d have a stone cold masterpiece, but you can’t, so we have to make do with this, which is alright by me because its a damn good film.
Manhunter Blu-ray is available from 26th of September 2011 from Studio Canal RRP: £19.99 Best price found £12.93 various online retailers.
Special Features – The Manhunter Look featurette, Inside Manhunter featurette, trailer, Original theatrical cut, Director’s Cut
Anyway peace out suckers! 8/10