Manhunter (1986) Review: Stunningly Shot Adaptation
“Enter the mind of a serial killer… you may never come back.”
Synopsis: Former FBI profiler Will Graham returns to service to pursue a deranged serial murderer named “the Tooth Fairy” by the media.
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Watching Manhunter, I can’t help but wonder if the movie would have more of a following if it hadn’t been eclipsed by another Thomas Harris adaptation a few years later. The Silence of the Lambs (1991) more than deserves the attention it gets, but Manhunter is an excellent piece as well, and one that ranks better than some of the other Hannibal Lecter movies.
Even with the inevitable comparisons to The Silence of the Lambs, Manhunter doesn’t fare badly. It’s not in quite the same tone, but like its companion piece, it’s more crime thriller than horror flick. Manhunter is a little more dreamy and has music that’s less on point, but in most other ways, the movies are comparable. The focus is again more on the psychology of the crimes and less about the gore; we follow someone trying to catch a serial killer with help from Hannibal Lecter.
Though Will Graham (William Petersen) is perhaps a less captivating character than Clarice Starling, he has more to lose – we see again and again how his job and talents affect his relationships with his wife and son. We get to see more of Jack Crawford (Dennis Farina) in action, which is also interesting. The only performance that didn’t work well for me was Brian Cox as Hannibal “Lecktor” – though I’m sure the comparison to Anthony Hopkins didn’t help, I mainly found his abrupt and chatty character choices to be at odds with the sophisticated man from the books.
Our killer on the loose here is also intriguing, just as Buffalo Bill is in The Silence of the Lambs. Tom Noonan does an excellent job as the Tooth Fairy, and even if we can’t sympathize with his methods, it’s easy for the audience to understand the loneliness that helped drive him to such extremes. Particularly interesting is his relationship with coworker Reba, which adds a new dimension to the urgency of the policework.
As a whole, Manhunter stands up well, but where it particularly shines is in the cinematography. It’s one of the most purposefully shot movies I’ve seen, and though I didn’t always agree with the way it was shot, I can honestly say I’ve rarely seen camerawork so deliberate. The use of framing, as well as shadow and color, really helped bring the story to life and provide nuance that’s lacking in most similar films.
If you enjoy crime movies – and especially if you’re a fan of The Silence of the Lambs – you’ll want to give this one a watch. Even with a long run-time, it’s worth your viewing.
Calamity Brains’ Rating: A
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