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Manhunter (Full Screen Edition) (1986)

A movie directed by Michael Mann

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Overrated and dated

  • Oct 20, 2001
To be fair, you shouldn't compare a film to its sequel, or even compare it to the book on which its based. But in the case of Manhunter, it's really, really hard not to.

Even if you don't, Manhunter just doesn't cut it: Much of the acting, particlarly from the supporting actors, is wooden; the script hackneyed (Peterson soto voce growls "Goddammit!" into the camera more than once too often); the sets (while trying desperately to be 80's haute fashion) are cheap; the soundtrack is dreadful in every respect (the music was lousy in the first place, being modishly (& cheaply) electronic now it sounds dated as well, it is poorly edited and it completely fails to project any sort of mood onto proceedings); there's an utterly irrelevant scene with an anaesthetised tiger; the narrative is jumbled and there is no sense of continuity in the picture at all. Having slowly built tension for an hour an a half, with in the space of two screen minutes - one phone call - the cops have gone from having no idea who the villain is to being on a lear jet direct to his home address. Was Mann's budget running out?

Mann overdoes clever camera work and moody lighting and rushes critical plot exposition - many aspects of the story are barely explored or simply left unexplained. The key figure of Francis Dolarhyde is criminally underexplained. At the end of the film, the special effects guys had - quite literally - gone home (Petersen admits as much in the accompanying "making of" documentary) so the director had to improvise the splattery denouement. Boy it shows. Also it's odd that, having tried so hard (at the expense of dramatic tension) to keep the violence implicit, Mann allows the film to devolve into a ham-fisted bloodbath in the last five minutes.

And that's not comparing it either to the book or the film versions of Silence of the Lambs or Hannibal. To realise how botched a job Manhunter is, you need look no further.

In this context I can mention Brian Cox's Lektor because, like it or not, were it not for Hopkins, Manhunter's rendition of Hannibal Lektor would be thought of as nothing more than a bit part.

Despite promisingly styling himself after Bela Lugosi, Cox plays Lektor far too much like a distinguished psychiatrist and not enough like a distinguished psychiatrist who eats people for the hell of it. Manhunter accolytes say Hopkins overdid Hannibal, but even leaving aside the fact that in doing so Hopkins made one of the most successful franchises in the history of cinema, that is still nonsense - the character of Lecter as Thomas Harris wrote him is completely cartoonish, based as he is partway between Dracula and Sherlock Holmes.

Harris' novels are all tightly written, beautifully plotted and if anything over-egged with figuative structure. Mann has cut so much out in terms of plot I could barely follow what was going on (despite having read the book recently!), and he eschews Harris' symbolism for his own, which he realises in carefully contrived - but ultimately meaningless - camera angles, camera frames and lighting.

Both Jonathan Demme in Silence of the Lambs and Ridley Scott in Hannibal have drawn out the depth of Harris' writing (in quite different ways), but Michael Mann fails at this task.

The word is they're having another go at making Red Dragon. Second time lucky?

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More Manhunter (1986) reviews
review by . October 22, 2007
posted in Movie Hype
Like many people who have seen "Silence of the Lambs," I didn't know of "Manhunter," the first in the series, and by far one of the best one. This film was not only far ahead of its time but also a fantastic bit film making (Michael Mann once again hits the spot) in every sense of the word. The plot is the now basic serial killer on the loose/ cop must stop him and save his next victim. However, there are some very original and brilliant inventions in this film that separates it from the rest.   &nbs …
review by . February 15, 2005
posted in Movie Hype
This masterpiece needed a workover so badly. All the other previous dvd editions had a picture quality worse than vhs. I was glad as the Divimax Edition came out. The picture quality is superb (with the exception of the added restored material - although that can't get any better). Also the cardboard chapter list inside the box has the original poster printed on the other side. What is there left to say on the film? A masterpiece on a war of the minds. One, the Manhunter, brilliantly portrayed by …
review by . December 26, 2002
posted in Movie Hype
This film was made several years before SILENCE OF THE LAMB. The central character is not Hannibal Lector, but Will Graham (portrayed brilliantly by William Petersen); a FBI agent lured out of retirement to work on a special serial killer case. The film is tainted by the decade in which it was made (late 1980s). However, the film also feels like an episode of "Miami Vice" on speed which adds to the cat and mouse plot of the movie. The acting is better than average and the movie contains a rocking …
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Olly Buxton ()
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Though it will always be remembered as themovie featuring the "other" Hannibal Lecter, Michael Mann's 1986 thrillerManhunteris nearly as good asThe Silence of the Lambs, and in some respects it's arguably even better. Based on Thomas Harris's novelRed Dragon, which introduced the world to the nefarious killer Hannibal "the Cannibal" Lecter, the film stars William Petersen (giving a suitably brooding performance) as ex-FBI agent Will Graham, who is coaxed out of semiretirement to track down a serial killer who has thwarted the authorities at every turn.

Graham's approach to the case is a perilous one. First he seeks counsel with Lecter (Brian Cox) in the latter's high-security prison cell--an encounter that is utterly horrifying in its psychological effect--and then he begins to mold his own psyche to that of the killer, with potentially devastating results. As directed by Mann (who was at the acme of his success with TV's Miami Vice), this sophisticated cat-and-mouse game never resorts to the compromise of cheap thrills. Predating Anthony Hopkins's portrayal of Lecter by four years, Cox plays the character closer to Harris's original, lower-key conception, and he's no less compelling in the role. Petersen is equally well cast, and as always Mann employs rock music to astonishing effect, using nearly all of Iron Butterfly's heavy-metal epic "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" to accompany the film's heart-stopping ...

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Director: Michael Mann
Release Date: August 15, 1986
MPAA Rating: R
Screen Writer: Michael Mann, Thomas Harris
DVD Release Date: August 24, 2004
Runtime: 119 minutes
Studio: MGM (Video & DVD)
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"Overrated and dated"
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