Rating: 8 out of 10.

Remember The Silence of the Lambs? Neither do I. So you probably don’t recall the first iteration of the Lecter story either – Manhunter.

A 1986 thriller, Manhunter is based around Will Graham (William Petersen), who’s recently retired from the FBI – however, after a new case crops up, Jack Crawford (Dennis Farina) calls Will back to the frontline. Having previously been psychologically manipulated and abused by cannibalistic serial killer Hannibal Lecktor (Brian Cox), Will seeks out his help in catching the ‘Tooth Fairy’ (Tom Noonan).

Some of those names sounding familiar? Well, that will definitely be the case if you’ve watched any of the Hannibal series, which is inspired by the characters from the same book, Red Dragon. Confused? Well it’s not over yet, because Manhunter was remade in 2002, with the same title as the book, Red Dragon, as a prequel to The Silence of the Lambs. Red Dragon (the film) was not as popular, and was unable to emulate is predecessor. Why? I’ll come back to that a little later.

Will Graham is an interesting character. He’s incredibly intense, and William Petersen’s performance is fascinating. He’s able to capture Will’s instability and unhappiness very subtly, and we see it captured in brilliant scenes like when he sprints down the deliberately and clinically white and winding stairs from Hannibal’s cell. It’s like the nightmare of trying to run away from the scary man, but never truly being able to get away. Will is constantly trapped in some degree of nightmare and madness, constantly trapped in Lecktor’s sick game. The film explores, when he’s put back in the thick of it, will he finally escape or plunge even deeper?

Did The Silence of the Lambs take inspiration from this sort of shot?

I think, when watching Manhunter, you’ve got to bear in mind it was made in 1986. Let’s just, for a second, pretend that none of the future films in the franchise ever happened. This is all we know of the story. It’s original, it’s dark, it’s disturbing, it’s ground breaking. But because The Silence of the Lambs is such an amazing film, it gets overshadowed. Many people watched the Foster and Hopkins flick first, which meant they got that experience of original, dark, disturbing and ground breaking then, instead of with Manhunter. This is the greatest injustice, and feels very unfair. If the studio had pushed it forwards more, perhaps the whole way the series of films panned out could have been completely different. We’ll never know.

Manhunter starts strong. It’s quick and exciting, with Will getting sucked into the case. I think the middle plateaus a little, with the introduction of the ‘Tooth Fairy’, or Francis Dolarhyde. I think it’s important for a film to try and keep its cards close to their chest, and showing so much of Francis and so much of his thinking loses some of its mystique. I also didn’t find him particularly scary. A stocking of your head will only take you so far. I didn’t truly believe he went out and killed people, unlike with Buffalo Bill. The use of In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida in the ending was excellent, however, and Tom Noonan truly takes the form of a paranoid and alienated serial killer at that point. The showdown is terrific, and justifies a very good film.

Since The Silence of the Lambs, the character of Dr Lector has been taken by storm. People are so attracted by the incredible charm and acerbic wit that they have been craving for more ever since. But what makes the character is the fact he’s hardly in either of the stories at all. He’s intangible. It’s frustrating, because we want to spend more time with the him, but we’re not allowed to. In a way, it helps us empathise with our Wills and our Clarices.

And perhaps this is where your Hannibals, Red Dragons, Hannibal Risings and even the series version go wrong. While Manhunter and The Silence of the Lambs let our imaginations run wild, the films above have Lector as a main character. This should not be their design or intention. The desire to get to know the characters more ruins our fantasies, and probably the follow up films too.

Hopkins’ Lecter has an almost god like presence, ridiculously smart and dangerously omnipresent. He’s a super villain, in simple terms. Cox’s interpretation of the character (interestingly called Lecktor in Manhunter) is very different. While I don’t think it’s as grand standing as Hopkins’ performance, he’s a lot more realistic with his character. Lecter aims to make everyone around him look foolish – mainly to amuse himself. He’s incredibly unsettling. Cox isn’t. Charming and underplayed, he captures Lecktor’s humanity and is, in truth, normal – which certainly is a scary thought. Take a watch from the scene below:

“Well, zip that little pointer right on down to the letter G!” Could you see Lecter saying that? I don’t think so. This is the original Lecktor. How he’s evolved over the years is partly down to the actors who have played him and the way he’s been written. Is it better now rather than then? Perhaps – but that’s an argument for another day.

Manhunter is a very good film. It’s entertaining, if a little outdated, but what do you expect? As an ’80s film, it’s of it’s time, with the soundtrack and style of filming. You can see it’s influence in the industry, and should be recognised for giving birth to the outstanding Hannibal Lecter. It’s unfair this film doesn’t get as much recognition or praise as the rest of them – hopefully, just maybe, this review’s done a little to address the balance.

Manhunter – 8 out of 10

26 Comments

  1. Nice review, I realaly enjoyed this movie. Brian Cox looks so different young!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks, it’s a really entertaining film. I started watching Succession a few days back – which is brilliant, by the way – and it’s unbelievable how different he looks. I think the beard and greying hair have really done the trick, but being so fresh faced and with that little dimple in his chin really creates almost a likeability for Lecktor. It’s a trustworthy face, if you ask me. And that’s the intimidation factor.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. sopantooth says:

    I love Manhunter, I wonder what would have become of the “franchise” if it had been more successful.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ha! It is funny to think of it as a franchise, but, unfortunately, in the corporate world we live in, that’s what it turns out to be. I don’t have a mystic ball that could answer your question, but just like you, I’d be fascinated to know. I guess it’s just entirely left up to the imagination…

      Like

  3. Alex Good says:

    I was just saying on my site that Manhunter may be my favourite Michael Mann film. Not a fan. This one does rise above the 80s trappings just a bit though. Of course I wanted more Hannibal.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Don’t we all? Hannibal’s such a great character. And in terms of Mann, I personally like him. I think he’s made some good stuff, and all far better than some of the atrocities of 80s – that is something we can agree upon.

      Like

      1. Alex Good says:

        Yeah, I think one of the things that gets my back up with Mann is the hype that surrounds him. But even his best known, critical favourites like Thief and Heat have always struck me as pretty dull. He’s better than average though, that’s true.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Michael Mann: Better Than Average.

          I can see that on a poster.

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  4. I remember this coming out before Silence, and everyone was wowed by the Lecktor scenes. Silence effectively developed that character, but the ball was comprehensively dropped after that. Cox does so well with this; I remember the chill when he tells the switchboard operator ‘I have no arms’ and realising how well Hannibal had thought this through…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. He just seemed so comfortable with lying – it suits him better than telling the truth. But the fact he’s hardly in Manhunter or SotL, combined with the fact he’s played by two brilliant actors who give career high performances, means Hannibal becomes one of the most tantalising characters ever.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Agreed. Keeping him off-screen was the smartest move they made.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Brian Hannan says:

    In those days Michael Mann made nothing but cult films. I remember The Jericho Mile which was made-for-tv in the U.S. getting a cinema release. Then there was Thief and The Keep so in a way we were primed for something like Manhunter, although not that well primed given how much of a shocker it was. It is amazing that Hopkins so brilliantly reinterpreted what was already a stunning characterization by Brian Cox. This was probably Cox’s best screen performance and almost nobody saw it. For some reason, this failed to connect with U.S. audiences.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Typical Americans, right? I really do wonder why Manhunter wasn’t as bigger success as it could of been. It had a budget of 15 million, and grossed around 8 and a half. The Silence of the Lambs had a budget of 19 million, and grossed nearly 300 – that’s a pretty big difference. Why? Well, it’s the golden question. I’d be gutted if I was Cox. His performance is brilliant, and I’m glad that I was able to see it. The people who haven’t watched Manhunter will be the ones missing out. Agree on the Mann point. I’m not only gutted for Cox, but him as well. It’s such a shame Manhunter didn’t and doesn’t get the recognition it deserves, because it’s a great, and as you say, shocking film. I can only imagine what it was like to watch it when it first came out.

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  6. I enjoyed this film but it has been a while since I watched it. I do remember Lecktor’s cockney voice if I remember correctly. Also, I’m sure the two main characters ended up in a CSI episode together. Great read

    Liked by 1 person

    1. No wonder you remember Lecktor. He’s an excellent sore thumb in a very good film. He’s just so charming and charismatic that he’s impossible to forget. Give it a rewatch! It deserves it.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Very good review for a Michael Mann(hunter) film I like very much. You’re totally right when you describe it as dark vision of a profiler. Mann’s characters are often ambiguous and double, two sides of a medal, like the Miami Vice cop Crockett/Burnett, the Hacker Hathaway, or the Safe buster McCauley. They all walk along the thin line between light and darkness, as I wrote in my own review. Fascinating.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words – it really makes it worth it. I think you’re bang on the money with a very interesting point. I’ll try to search your review, and give it a read. It’s certainly a fascinating film.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. beetleypete says:

    Making a second visit to pitch in for this neglected film. I have read the books, and I had this on VHS as soon as it was available, so I could watch it again. I still prefer it to any of the later films, as it captures the mood of the books so much better. Cox was on fire as Lecktor, just a shame his part was undeveloped.
    (I never watched any of the TV series based on these)
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I really need to read the books. Recommend?

      Cox is great. He’s so charming it’s unbelievable, and I think part of his glamour is definitely the small amount of screen time – the same goes for Hopkins. The TV series I don’t recommend. It had good moments, but was a real let down for me (although it did have the great Mads Mikklesen!).

      Liked by 1 person

      1. beetleypete says:

        I am going to follow your blog now, though I will mainly be commenting on films before 2019, and rarely on any TV series, as I don’t watch that much stuff on Netflix or Prime, (though I have both) and I don’t have SKY.
        I might also add links to films I think are wonderful, if that’s okay?
        Cheers, Pete.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Thanks for the follow Pete! It’s much appreciated. Of course, and that’s also pretty lucky, because I mostly can’t stand most of those pow pow, shoot em up-y, modern superhero films – it’s only (mostly) classics on this blog! TV series I don’t do too often as they’re quite long to watch, so I wouldn’t worry too much about that either. And add as many links as you like! I’d love to hear what you have to say, and any recommendations are welcome!

          Liked by 1 person

  9. beetleypete says:

    I read ‘Red Dragon’ first, then ‘Silence of The Lambs’. They were the only two I read.
    I really like Mads, but not interested in that TV series. Have you seen ‘The Hunt’, and ‘Valhalla Rising’? I liked him in both of those, also ‘A Royal Affair’.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Interesting stuff. I think I may order both of those books, try and get them read.
      I have watched The Hunt (and reviewed – https://overtheshoulder129848657.wordpress.com/2021/03/30/infamy-infamy-theyve-all-got-it-in-for-me-the-hunt/), which I thought was an interesting idea, but I probably wasn’t going to enjoy it that much from the start. Valhalla Rising and A Royal Affair I haven’t seen, but I’ll do some research!

      Liked by 1 person

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