Director: Michael Mann
Writer: Michael Mann
From novel: Red Dragon by Thomas Harris
Keywords: Thriller, Cannibalism, Serial Killer
Review by Striker5 (posted on 17-Aug-2007)
In Manhunter, Thomas Harris' richly textured and disturbing novel "Red Dragon" gets the Michael Mann treatment: a Miami Vice tone and the character of Will Graham recast as a classic Mann protagonist.
The plot centers around a monstrous-yet-human serial killer and the preternaturally gifted investigator trying to catch him. Notable in print and celluloid is the first appearance of Hannibal Lecter (Lektor in the film)(Brian Cox), as a crucial figure in the plot.
The story follows the depradations of the "Tooth Fairy" (Tom Noonan), a serial murderer who destroys entire families in pursuit of a vivid fantasy life. Graham (William Peterson) is a retired investigator with almost superhuman powers of perception and an ability to crack cases by thinking through the psyche of his quarry. This ability disturbs Graham and effects his personal and professional relationships.
The movie is very 80's in dress, music, and tone - reflecting Mann's artisitic interests at the time. Also, Will Graham takes on the characteristics of Mann's other central characters (like Hawkeye from Last of the Mohicans or Neil McCauley from Heat) as a fiercely dedicated, proficient, and emotionally disconnected person.
The film achieves horror through suggestion - we only see the aftermath of the Tooth Fairy's rampages but they lose none of their impact. A large part of the novel is dedicated to the history of the killer and his evolution into a delusional mass-murderer. Mann manages to create almost as much empathy with less time through a sympathetic performance by Tom Noonan.
While inevitably compared to Anthony Hopkins' famous performance, Brian Cox's Lecter is excellent. "Lektor" is less of a superhuman genius and more of a manipulative, arrogant jerk. More believably human, in other words. Unlike Jodie Foster's Starling, Graham has nothing but contempt for Lecter and blows him off and insults him - resulting in some interesting plot twists.
Finally, the end of the film is much more conventional than the novel. There is some bizarre editing in the final confrontation that looks like sloppy camera work. I can't believe Mann, with all his perfectionism, would let that slide through. Perhaps he was making some sort of artistic point I am too dense to get.
Bottom line: A fine film that is marred by hyper-exposure to Hannibal Lecter by much of the film's future audience.
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