Maybe it’s because I saw Manhunter first (at the cinema, on its initial theatrical release) that I prefer it to Jonathan Demme’s The Silence Of The Lambs, as well as consider Brian Cox’s sublime and scary interpretation of Hannibal Lector (misspelled Lecktor in the Manhunter credits) superior to Anthony Hopkins’ Oscar-winning portrayal.
Released in 1986, Michael Mann’s stylishly haunting adaptation of Thomas Harris’ second novel, Red Dragon, Manhunter revolves around retired FBI profiler Will Graham (William Petersen, years and a beard away from CSI fame) brought back into the game, following a life-threatening injury, to help track down a serial killer dubbed the Tooth Fairy, who’s already slaughtered two families by entering their homes at night and who, investigators believe, is operating on a lunar cycle.
Initially reluctant to put himself at risk again, Graham eventually relents and visits the former psychiatrist turned sociopath, Dr Hannibal Lecktor (Cox), who almost killed him to get what Graham calls “the scent back” in order to hunt down the film’s “main” villain, as played by Tom Noohan. Alas, despite his best efforts, and thanks in no small part of Lecktor’s intervention, Graham is pulled into a maelstrom of violence that puts both his own life and that of his family in jeopardy.
Cox’s Lecktor has even less screen time than Hopkins’ first outing but he makes every second count. Whereas Hopkins’ Hannibal was almost a pantomime villain, a gibbering Grand Guignol cannibal locked away in a dank, dark prison cell in a dank, dark basement prone to lip smacking theatrics, Cox’s subtle, insidious portrayal is a marvel of understatement and all the more chilling for it. In fact, locked in a sterile, all-white room, wearing a white jumpsuit, Cox’s Lecktor doesn’t appear mad when we first lay eyes on him, and it’s only slowly revealed during the following exchange Graham quite how dangerous he is.
Graham: I know that I’m not smarter than you.
Lecktor: Then how did you catch me?
Graham: You had disadvantages.
Lecktor: What disadvantages?
Graham: You’re insane.
The scene is enhanced ever further by Mann’s skilfully framing. He shoots the cell bars between Graham and Lecktor so that as he cuts between the two men, the bars line up exactly.
This Blu-ray release is a joy, spectacularly reproducing both Dante Spinotti’s stunning, colour-coded cinematography with its rich blacks, hot blues and vibrant greens and the film’s hypnotic, synthesized score which has since gone both out and back into fashion. The release also contains Mann’s later director’s cut and while the transfer is better than that included in Anchor Bay’s DVD limited edition release, the picture quality doesn’t compare to that of the theatrical version. Still, it’s well worth watching, as there are some subtle and not so subtle changes throughout, with Mann’s tinkering leading to the reordering of certain scenes, as well as the inclusion of several entirely new sequences. It’s also the version that includes a Mann commentary track. For a more through examination of the differences click here.
Given the relative failure of Manhunter on its original release, producer Dino DeLaurentis reputedly allowed the film rights to Harris’s literary sequel, The Silence Of The Lambs, to be sold to another party. Several years later, having missed out on the Silence success, DeLaurentis tried to make amends by remaking Manhunter under its original title, with Hopkins back as Lecter under the direction of Brett Ratner. The result reworked the same material into a mostly lifeless and visually inert movie devoid of the flair, energy and power Mann brought to Harris’ novel. An essential purchase.
• Director’s Cut
• Director’s Cut Commentary
• Inside Manhunter featurette
• The Manhunter Look featurette
• Theatrical Trailer