DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog: MANHUNTER

Wednesday, 7 February 2007


Manhunter (1986) dir. Michael Mann
Starring: William Peterson, Brian Cox


On the week of the release of the 5th “Hannibal Lecter” film, let’s revisit the original film featuring Thomas Harris’ famous character. "Manhunter" is arguably the template for today’s procedure crime dramas such as “CSI”, or “Cold Case.”

“Manhunter” has Hannibal Lecter featured only in a few scenes, instead the film concentrates on Will Graham (Peterson) investigating the case of a serial murderer who kills his victims once a month on the full moon. The story begins with a grizzly crime scene of a murdered family in their home. Graham is a seasoned cop, who analyzes everything with microscopic detail. You can see where Peterson’s character from CSI comes from. Here, Mann practically invents the forensic investigation genre of film and television. Graham's strength is the ability to get inside the killer’s head, and psychologically predict his moves. But eventually he hits a wall in the investigation and is forced to take drastic steps. He enlists his former nemesis, the recently imprisoned Hannibal Lecter for help. Lecter, as we know, is sly. Take note of the terrific scene when Lecter uses his one phone call in a creative way to communicate with the killer and trap Will Graham in the process. It’s a cat & mouse game between Graham, Lecter and the killer. Graham is on the verge of having a mental breakdown, but not before he figures out the crucial piece of the puzzle which enables him to track the killer.

Brian Cox, who plays Lecter, doesn’t have the magnificent Lecter-lair to act in, instead he’s given a humble, stark white prison cell. And despite not having Anthony Hopkins’ scene-chewing dialogue, Cox is a worthy Lecter - mysterious, manipulative and confident. William Peterson is good as the obsessive cop, especially when he dictates his thoughts into a tape recorder. Tom Noonan is extra creepy as an awkward and lanky photomart employee/serial killer. Even Cabin Boy himself, Chris Elliot, gives a brooding performance.

Technically the film has Michael Mann’s stamp all over it – blue & green-tinted look, steely cold performances, slick synthesized rock score - all elements we’ll see in later films such as “Heat” and “The Insider.” Note: I must acknowledge a couple nasty 80’s pop songs which also appear in the film.

The final sequence set to Iron Butterfly’s “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” uses some experimental camera effects, which put plainly, look really bad, but the scene is nonetheless pulsating and hypnotic. It’s a top-notch serial killer film and a grandfather of the genre, though buffs may also want to watch Akira Kurosawa’s “High and Low” or Fritz Lang’s “M” to see other similarities. Enjoy.


Kieran said...

Reviews of the new Hanibal film are pretty wretched. I was hoping that given the involvement of writer Thomas Harris and producer Dino DeLaurentis, the film might be alright. A shame, this was a great franchise to spoil.

Alan Bacchus said...

Thanks Kieran for the comment. But sadly, even the Thomas Harris has sold out.