Friday, March 13, 2015

Short Attention Span Review: Manhunter (1986)

Pop quiz, hotshot: what's the best movie with Hannibal Lecter (or is Lecktor?) in it?  If you said Silence of the Lambs, you're in the majority.  If you said Manhunter, you're surely in the minority, but I happen to agree with you.  If you said anything else, you're wrong.  Despite being a little dated (it was the 80s, can you name a good movie from that decade that isn't dated?) and a little rushed at the very end (which is still awesome) Manhunter is a wicked ride.  First off, if it's a Michael Mann movie, it's worthwhile.  This is one of his earlier efforts, but it has the power and charisma of his later work and showcases his unique gift for providing his films with a wealth of atmosphere.  The acting is top-notch, with the gifted William Petersen offering up what is quite possibly his best performance--though his equally compelling work in To Live and Die in L.A. makes that a tough call.  Brian Cox is a fine Hannibal and Dennis Farina is pitch-perfect as Jack Crawford.  Tom Noonan is truly spooky as the conflicted villain, Frances Dollarhyde, a.k.a. "The Tooth Fairy."  Joan Allen makes the most of a smaller part and lends Noonan a major assist in bringing some humanity to a difficult role while a host of other thespians also make worthwhile contributions to the picture.  The pace may be a bit slow for some, but it's all about getting into Will Graham's head as he does his best to get into Dollarhyde's head, all while Hannibal is worming his way deeper into Will's head.  If that makes it all sound overly complex, it's not.  The picture is emotionally charged, easy on the eyes, and very intriguing, all while generating a wealth of suspense and fear.  The frightening aspect of Manhunter is one of its biggest successes, for it does cover some gruesome and scary territory to great effect without ever playing any standard horror genre tricks.  There are no jump scares to release the tension and the music never provides us with any false alarms.  It's frightening because of the subject matter and the powerful direction and performances, not because it benefits from any Hollywood shenanigans.  If you've never seen Manhunter, do yourself a favor and give it a watch--particularly if you're familiar with Hannibal or the books written by Thomas Harris.  You'll have a great time sweating bullets with Will Graham right up until the riveting conclusion, which probably contains the single greatest shot that Michael Mann ever filmed.

Final Grade: A-
William Petersen absolutely slays it as Will Graham.


  1. I think of it as a minor classic of sorts. The acting and the cinematography are both pretty damn epic. I can't overstate how much I enjoy William Petersen in the role of Will Graham, and I'm sure that it was easier for him to kill that part with all of the quality performances going on around him.