REVIEW: MANHUNTER

 

CAST

William Petersen (CSI)
Kim Greist (Brazil)
Tom Noonan (Robocop 2)
Dennis Farina (Romeo is Bleeding)
Brian Cox (X-Men 2)
Joan Allen (Pleasantville)
Stephen Lang (Avatar)
Frankie Faison (Luke Cage)
Chris Elliott (Scary Movie 2)
Bill Smitrovich (Ted 1 & 2)
Marshall Bell (Total Recall)

Thomas Harris’ extremely popular “Hannibal Lector” character has appeared in 80% of the author’s novels and five separate feature-length films. Most would find Lector synonymous with 1991’s landmark The Silence of the Lambs, in which Anthony Hopkins turned the soft-spoken cannibal into a cultural icon. The character’s subsequent film appearances are all more exaggerated than the last, so it makes sense that 1986’s Manhunter shows Hannibal at his most…normal? It also serves as director Michael Mann’s third film, but it flopped at the box office and still stands in the shadow of its more popular young brother. Based on Harris’ second novel Red Dragon (and remade in 2002 by Brett Ratner), Manhunter deserved a bigger audience then and still deserves a bigger one today.

Part thriller, part character study and part horror film, this tale of FBI profile expert Will Graham (William Petersen) often crackles with suspense. Having retired to his peaceful family life due to exhaustion, Graham is approached by his former boss Jack Crawford (Dennis Farina) after an unknown killer’s quiet rampage has already left two families dead. Hannibal isn’t the culprit, of course: he’s safely behind bars due to Graham’s tireless efforts with the FBI, but he might be personally linked to the killer at large. Fearing another series of murders may be only weeks away, the intensely dedicated Graham decides to pursue the case, using his behavioral knowledge to carve away at the killer’s unknown location.

As in Silence of the Lambs, the character of Hannibal Lector (here spelled “Lecktor”, and portrayed by Brian Cox) only pops up occasionally to offer twisted guidance, but his presence looms heavily over the entire film. Silence’s menacing Buffalo Bill is one-upped, though, by the more sympathetic, layered and quietly intimidating Francis Dollarhyde (Tom Noonan), a lab worker whose dark personal life fuels violent impulses. Working on a lunar cycle, Dollarhyde’s third slaughter grows closer as Graham and Crawford attempt to track him down. Manhunter’s approach to Dollarhyde is extremely effective: the film’s almost half-over before we even catch a glimpse of him, and the slow reveal works wonderfully.Tom Noonan and William Petersen in Manhunter (1986)Manhunter is arguably the least-known of the “Hannibal Lector” films…and that’s a shame, because it’s easily second best behind Silence of the Lambs. Michael Mann’s solid direction anchors this cat-and-mouse thriller quite well.

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