Tuesday, June 29, 2010


Manhunter is at a bit of a disadvantage with modern viewers.  While it was the first Thomas Harris novel to reach the big screen, it does not feature Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Leckor (not Lecter, as in the later films).  This was remedied when the movie was remade taking the source novel's name of Red Dragon.  That remake was a star-studded spectacle, even though it was clearly just an excuse to get Hopkins into the Lecter role one more time.  Because of Hopkins' success with the Lecter role, this movie has been unfairly overlooked.  While it is dated, this movie stands on its own well enough.

Manhunter is the story of Will Graham (William Petersen), a former profiler for the FBI.  His former coworker, Jack Crawford (Dennis Farina), approaches Graham with a serial killer case; Graham wants nothing to do with the work, but Crawford convinces him that the case is a ticking clock (the killer operates on a lunar cycle, so they know how much time they have) and Graham unhappily submits.  Graham is unquestionably the focus in this movie and is on the screen for the better part of the first half.  He approaches criminal profiling like method actors approach their roles; he takes the facts and then tries to get in the killer's head.  With this insight, he is able to follow their logic and, theoretically, catch them.  This killer, dubbed the Tooth Fairy, is harder to predict than most.  Graham has difficulty finding connections between the victims, so he turns to a criminal for help.  Graham's last case was that of Dr. Hannibal Lecktor (Brian Cox), who was both a psychiatrist adviser to Graham and the serial killer that Graham was hunting; Graham discovered Lecktor's secret and led to his capture, but not before Lecktor nearly killed him.  Meanwhile, Francis Dollarhyde (Tom Noonan) is the Tooth Fairy killer.  However, he manages to fall in love with a blind woman, Reba (Joan Allen), at work.  Her confidence and straightforward manner puts him at ease, since he is socially awkward and is self conscious of his repaired cleft lip.  Unfortunately, Dollarhyde is a psycho-killer and Graham is practically psychic, so this movie can't end well for everybody.

This is not a movie without its problems.  The production values definitely indicate that this was made in the eighties.  The title is just silly; the producers decided not to call it "Red Dragon" (partially) because it doesn't have any karate.  Toward the end of the movie, when Dollarhyde is reveling in his serial killer persona, he turns on Iron Butterfly's "In-A-Godda-Da-Vita" to frighten his girlfriend.  Unless she has a fear of organ music, he made a poor choice.  The movie's ending strays significantly away from the book's, which isn't necessarily a problem.  The ending is very physical, where the rest of the movie is psychological; the ending is abrupt because of this.

There are a lot of good things about this movie, though.  I liked William Petersen's performance; he seemed genuinely disturbed as he figured out what and why the Tooth Fairy did his work.  Some of his lines seemed a little unnatural, but I think that suits a character that can put himself in the mental shoes of killers.  Brian Cox does a decent job as Hannibal Lecktor, but he made the character seem more human; making him more approachable and understandable, though, makes his aloofness seem pettier.  My overall impression was that Hannibal was a fairly intelligent, snotty jerk --- not necessarily a monster.  Tom Noonan, on the other hand, was very effective as the Tooth Fairy.  Maybe it's because this movie does not give nearly as much background to his character as Red Dragon does, but he is socially awkward, abrupt, unsympathetic, and genuinely creepy.  Unfortunately, when he assumes his killer persona, he wears what appears to be pantyhose over half of his head.  While a little weird, it's also a little funny.  The other actors (basically Dennis Farina, Joan Allen, and Stephen Lang) play their parts well enough.

Michael Mann directed and wrote the screenplay to this film.  That means that this movie is a little long, has abrupt violence, and a gratuitous sex scene.  I think he did a pretty good job with the actors in this movie; Cox and Petersen do pretty well and Noonan (who is not a good actor) was impressive.  This movie is a lot less graphic than both the book and the remake, which I liked better than having Graham flash back to murders that he is imagining.  I disagree with the choice to omit all references to the Red Dragon from this movie; a lot of Dollarhyde's dialogue is based off of the ideas of William Blake, and ignoring the painting, tattoos and everything else made his dialogue more nonsensical.  I really didn't like much of Graham's monologuing, but it got absolutely terrible toward the film's climax.

In the end, the odd creative choices led to an ending that didn't match the tone of the film as a whole.  I liked several aspects of the movie, but it was occasionally awkward to watch.

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