Monday, February 18, 2019
Based on the novel Red Dragon by Thomas Harris, Manhunter is the story of a FBI profiler who comes out of retirement to find a serial killer and capture him while dealing with his own past and demons relating to another serial killer he had captured years ago. Written for the screen and directed by Michael Mann, the film is a suspense-thriller that has a man trying to find a killer and his approach to murder as he also has to get help from the man who had been haunting him for much of his life. Starring William Petersen, Kim Greist, Joan Allen, Dennis Farina, Stephen Lang, Tom Noonan, and Brian Cox as Dr. Hannibal Lecktor. Manhunter is a riveting and eerie film from Michael Mann.
The film revolves around a FBI profiler who is coaxed out of retirement to find a serial killer as he tries to understand what the killer is doing while still reeling from past demons relating to capturing another serial killer in Dr. Hannibal Lecktor. It’s a film that is more about a man trying to understand what this killer is doing after he had killed a couple of families in Birmingham, Alabama and Atlanta while is aware that the killer is trying to play mind games on him. Michael Mann’s screenplay is a character study of sorts as it relates to the FBI profiler Will Graham (William Petersen) who had retired a few years ago after capturing Dr. Lecktor where he later had a mental breakdown that lead to his retirement. It was friend and fellow FBI agent Jack Crawford (Dennis Farina) who asked Graham to come out of retirement due to a series of murders as Graham reluctantly agree as a promise to his wife Molly (Kim Greist) to not be involved in any action other than examine.
Graham’s method in trying to see what a killer is thinking and how he would approach things added to his mental breakdown as he would turn to Dr. Lecktor for advice which would only make things worse as Graham is trying to maintain his sanity. The killer known as the Tooth Fairy (Tom Noonan) because of the bite marks he would leave on his victims wouldn’t be seen until the film’s second half as he is revealed to be an admirer of Dr. Lecktor’s work as a reporter in Freddy Lounds (Stephen Lang) would complicate things for Graham who would use Lounds to lure the Tooth Fairy with Graham choosing to be bait. Yet, the Tooth Fairy is a man that is entranced by certain details and has a hard time coping with reality leading to an eventual showdown between him and Graham.
Mann’s direction is definitely stylish for some of the visual presentation he creates in a film that is more about a man trying to understand a killer rather than go after him in a frantic manhunt. Shot on various locations in Atlanta, Miami, Chicago, St. Louis, Washington D.C., and parts of Alabama, the film does play into an investigation that is filled with intrigue but also uncertainty into what is happening as two of the murders happened in Atlanta and Birmingham where Mann uses the locations to help play into the atmosphere along with these family home movies of the victims. While Mann uses wide shots to establish some of the locations as well as the attention to detail in the home of the Tooth Fairy. Much of his direction emphasizes on close-ups and medium shots to get some of the details into what Graham is trying to look for. Notably in the camera movements where Graham would go into the homes of the victims to see how the Tooth Fairy might’ve done his murders as well as the surroundings outside of the house for clues.
The scenes with Dr. Lecktor are very low-key and intimate where even though the character only appears in three scenes in the film. He does make a chilling impression as someone that feels vindicated that he’s managed to make Graham uneasy but is willing to help him to see who is trying to copy him which adds to the dark nature of the film. There aren’t many moments in the film that are violent other than the killing of a few characters and its climax involving the Tooth Fairy, a blind woman named Reba McClaine (Joan Allen), and Graham. Still, Mann maintains that need to understand what the Tooth Fairy is doing and where he might be just as the man seems to be finding a sense of normalcy only to deal with the realities of the world and what he must do. Overall, Mann creates a gripping and evocative film about a FBI profiler trying to catch a killer and understand his methods without trying to lose his sanity.
Cinematographer Dante Spinotti does incredible work with the film’s cinematography as it is infused with style with some bluish filters for a few scenes at night involving Graham and his wife along with the usage of green lights to play into the world of the Tooth Fairy as well as exterior scenes at night including its climax with stylish approach to lighting. Editor Dov Hoenig does excellent work with the editing with its usage of jump-cuts, slow-motion freeze-frame shots, and other stylish cuts that play into the suspense. Production designer Mel Bourne and art director Jack Blackman do amazing work with the look of the Tooth Fairy’s home as well as the offices and home that Graham and his family live in. Costume designer Colleen Atwood does nice work with the costumes as it is mainly straightforward that include some of the clothes that the Tooth Fairy wears including his disguise which has an element of dark humor.
Special makeup designers John Caglione Jr. and Doug Drexler do terrific work with the look of the Tooth Fairy as it has this creepiness to who he really is. Special effects supervisor Joe Digaetano does wonderful work with some of the film’s minimal visual effects that play into a dream sequence of Graham seeing one of the victims. Sound editor Robert R. Rutledge does superb work with the sound in creating an atmosphere as well as capturing sound for tape recorders and other effects that help add to the suspense. The film’s music by Michel Rubini and the Reds is brilliant for its electronic-based score with some ambient textures and eerie synthesizer arrangements that add to the drama and suspense with a few songs from the Prime Movers, Red 7, and Shriekback to add to some of the drama as well as a chilling usage of Iron Butterfly’s In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida for its climax.
The casting by Bonnie Timmerman is great as it feature some notable small roles and appearances from Paul Perri as Dr. Sidney Bloom who is concerned about Graham’s mental condition, David Seaman as Will and Molly’s son Kevin Graham who would ask his father about what happened to him and Dr. Lecktor, Frankie Faison as a St. Louis police lieutenant, Chris Elliott as a FBI official, and Benjamin Hendrickson as Dr. Frederick Chilton who is the warden at the prison that is holding Dr. Lecktor. Stephen Lang is superb as the reporter Freddy Lounds whom Graham doesn’t like as he would stir trouble forcing Graham and Crawford to use him as a way to get the Tooth Fairy’s attention for an ad that eventually leads to trouble. Kim Greist is terrific as Graham’s wife Molly as a woman who is worried for her husband as she knows what he has to do as she would have a moment to deal with the possible presence of the Tooth Fairy.
Joan Allen is fantastic as Reba McClaine as a blind co-worker of the Tooth Fairy that would fall for him unaware of who he really is as she would also unknowingly spark jealousy for him. Dennis Farina is excellent as Jack Crawford as Graham’s partner who coaxes Graham out of retirement while helping him with the investigation while also keeping an eye on him for Graham’s wife to ensure that Graham doesn’t lose it. Tom Noonan is amazing as Francis Dollarhyde/the Tooth Fairy as a mysterious serial killer who is a fan of Dr. Lecktor’s works prompting him to do his own killings as a way to deal with ills of the world as well as his fascination for certain individuals and the world they live as it’s a restrained yet chilling performance from Noonan.
Brian Cox is incredible as Dr. Hannibal Lecktor in a role that is small yet impactful in terms of the discomfort he brings into the film. It’s a performance that also requires restraint where Cox doesn’t do anything creepy other than just talk and showcase some dark humor as it is his most iconic performance of his career. Finally, there’s William Petersen in a phenomenal performance as Will Graham as a FBI profiler who is coaxed out of retirement to investigate a series of murders where he tries to understand what Dollarhyde is doing while coping with his own demons following his capture of Dr. Lecktor forcing him to take action to find the Tooth Fairy.
Manhunter is a spectacular film from Michael Mann that features tremendous performances from William Petersen, Tom Noonan, and Brian Cox. Along with its ensemble cast, study on forensics and investigation, chilling tone, Dante Spinotti’s entrancing photography, and a haunting music soundtrack. The film is definitely a tier-top suspense drama that is more about character and ideas rather than action that adds to the sense of intrigue not often common with suspense films. In the end, Manhunter is a sensational film from Michael Mann.
Michael Mann Films: (The Jericho Mile) – Thief (1981 film) - The Keep – (L.A. Takedown) – The Last of the Mohicans (1992 film) - Heat – (The Insider) – Ali – Collateral – Miami Vice – Public Enemies (2009 film) – Blackhat - (Ferrari)
Related: (Silence of the Lambs) – (Hannibal) – (Red Dragon) – (Hannibal Rising) - (The Auteurs #74: Michael Mann)
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I really like Brian Cox, but I've never seen this. I'm only vaguely familiar with the title.
I agree the soundtrack and photography is outstanding. For me, the 1986 film works as a detective thriller while Red Dragon (2002 is closer to horror.
@Brittani-See this film. If you've seen Red Dragon (which was alright), this is the better film as Cox I always felt did a better job as Hannibal Lector than Anthony Hopkins.
@Chris-That is true though I still prefer this film than Red Dragon.
"It's just you and me now, sport."
LOVE this film. Easily one of Mann's greatest and pretty much kickstarted the profiler sub-genre. Has William Petersen ever been better? What a one-two punch with this and TO LIVE & DIE IN LA. Man, he really hit it out of the park. I love that Mann doesn't focus on the actual murders per se but only their aftermaths with Petersen's character picking up the pieces, trying to figure things out.
@J.D.-I think one of Mann's key influences for this film was definitely Jean-Pierre Melville based on the films of Melville that I've seen so far. Both men are interested in trying to understand what happened and what to do rather than immediately go into the action. More films need to do that and have the audience take the time to figure things out.
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