Review : Manhunter (1986)

I spent years under the illusion that I had seen all the movie adaptations of Thomas Harris’ novels. Having recently become addicted to the Hannibal TV Series, I researched the subject of my obsession a little more and found out about Michael Mann’s Manhunter. This 1986 film is the first transposition of Red Dragon on screen.

I assume most people know about this particular story as a vast majority has either read the book, watched the show or seen Brett Ratner’s Red Dragon so no synopsis !

Michael Mann is amongst those directors who have a very unique and identifiable style. Having seen the other adaptations of the novels before this one, it was very interesting to watch Mann’s visual choices, which are often the exact opposite to Silence of the Lambs.

The first fifteen minutes of the film are quite dull ; of course, the purpose of a first act is to give proper exposition for the story to be established on solid grounds but the performances are bland and the lines delivered in a monotonous manner. The first time Will Graham (William Petersen) shows a degree of tension and nervousness is when Hannibal Lecter is mentioned for the very first time. Despite my criticism, Petersen is a better Will Graham than Edward Norton was in Red Dragon. The character’s internal torture and constant struggle between good and evil is better portrayed in Manhunter.

Michael Mann went the opposite direction compared to Silence of the Lambs and its sequels, in which Hannibal Lecter’s cell resembles a dungeon and seems to be buried underground as if the doctor was a dirty secret. In Manhunter, Hannibal’s cell is white, swimming in light. His environment appears pure and untouched, unlike the evil inhabiting the good doctor.
Brian Cox’s portrayal of Dr Lecter in no way suffers from a comparison with Anthony Hopkins’. His performance truly gives justice to the character. He especially masters Hannibal’s enjoyment when toying with Will’s mind and the way he delivers most of his lines is simply exquisite ! Brian Cox brings us an obnoxious intelligent jerk, in contrast with Anthony Hopkins’ elegant and calculating manipulator. Note that Mads Mikkelsen remains my favorite Hannibal Lecter out of all the incarnations of the character.

The Tooth Fairy is first introduced when he abducts Freddie Lounds. Tom Noonan’s portrayal of Francis Dolarhyde is the creepiest out of all three (Ralph Fiennes in Red Dragon and Richard Armitage in Hannibal). I much prefer Ralph Fiennes’ interpretation as he gives multiple layers to the character and embodies the constant struggle between himself and the Red Dragon inside. As Francis Dolarhyde, Ralph Fiennes is a classic tragic character and the viewer feels compassion for this poor man. Tom Noonan took a different direction with the character. In Manhunter, the Tooth Fairy is an enigmatic psychopathic monster. I much prefer the other incarnations of Francis Dolarhyde but Noonan is excellent at portraying the most frightening version of the character to appear on film !

Visually, the movie is aesthetically pleasing, especially in Mann’s use of color. The locations and character placements are well chosen to emphasize the situations and characters’ states of mind (such as the first scene of the film, in which Jack Crawford and Will Graham are in opposition physically – facing opposite ways – as well as in disagreement).

Manhunter is a must-watch for any #Fannibal or anyone who has enjoyed the more famous adaptations of Thomas Harris’ books.


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