Brian Cox Is A Better Hannibal Than Anthony Hopkins. A Manhunter Review

Film Score: ⭐⭐

Released by De Laurentiis Entertainment Group (D.E.G.)

Release Date: August 15th, 1986

Starring: William Peterson, Tom Noonan, Joan Allen, and Brian Cox

Written by Michael Mann

Directed by Michael Mann

Rated R (Language and violence)

I am not the biggest Michael Mann fan. I have seen most of his films, but I only like a handful of them. Suffice it to say, but Manhunter is not one of them. The film starts out promising. In fact the first hour of the film is really good. We are introduced to the characters in a nice way, we believe there interactions, and we care about what they do and the consequences of their actions. We are given a step by step look at how they go about figuring out various things that happen and it is exciting. This attention to detail would also come up in To Live and Die in L.A., the film that proceeded  this one for star William Petersen and has a similar look and feel. But where To Live and Die in L.A. was exciting all the way through, Manhunter stopped being exciting about halfway through.

The story is pretty straight forward. Will Graham is an FBI called back into service after two murders have been linked together. Graham is an expert profiler, having brought down the ruthless and cunning Hannibal Lecktor (Brian Cox) and lost his mind in the process. Graham takes the case so long as he isn’t linked to the case. Enter Freddy Lounds (Stephen Lang), a reporter for a shitty tabloid The National Tattler, who outs Graham’s involvement with the case.

All of this is great set up and Mann handles it very well. Graham goes to see Lecktor for help with the case. The scene between the two is one of the best scenes in the film. Petersen and Cox are clearly at the top of their game and, while the scene is short, it makes an impression on the audience that isn’t lost.

After the meeting, Lecktor is found to be hiding a letter written by the killer and tucked away in a book. Here is where Mann really shines as a director. His attention to this letter is a main focus for an extended period of time. He takes us through the steps that the FBI takes in uncovering the mysteries of the letter. If you have seen this film then you know how exciting this portion of the film is. I was really intrigued by these scenes even though I had seen 2002’s Red Dragon which is adapted from the same novel.

While the first half of the film is loaded with tension and excitement, the same can not be said about the back half. We are introduced to the film’s killer, Francis Dollarhyde (Tom Noonan). Dollarhyde is supposed to be a scary guy, but his introduction, when he is wearing the stocking on his head, made me laugh very hard. From here until the end of the film, there are so many scenes that are cringeworthy, and not in a good way, that I was having a hard time keeping my attention on the film.

We are also introduced to Reba (Joan Allen) who is a coworker of Dollarhyde. He asks her out and he takes her to the zoo where is pets a tiger. After that she has sex with him and he falls for her. I like Allen. She is really good here, but she is given so little to work with that we wonder why she was included in the film at all.

This is a huge problem I had with the film. The focus of the film is on Graham so Dollarhyde is pushed to the background. Why isn’t his part in the film bigger? We spend the first hour of the film learning about how bad this guy is and then when we get to him, we realize that we were set up for failure. The Dollarhyde we are told about doesn’t even come close to the one we are given. And don’t take this as a slight against Tom Noonan, who is a great actor and does what he can with the role, but I did not find this film’s Dollarhyde scary at all.

I did find this film’s Lecktor a lot scarier in this film than Anthony Hopkins’ Oscar winning Lector. Here Cox is so sure of the character that we don’t even realize that he is a really bad guy until later in the film. He is menacing and kind and playful and evil all in the same scene. He makes a big impression and would have liked to have seen him in the role again.

Aside from the performances, which are really good, I found the look of the film to be very pleasing. Director of Photography Dante Spinotti really shines here. I found the first scenes of the film to be gorgeous, with a shot of the ocean as the sun is setting to be my favorite. There are a lot of shots in this film that are magnificent and this is where the film excels. The film looks better than it plays.

There is something that bothered me. Throughout the film, Graham is seen talking to himself. Most of the time this is ok as he is talking into a tape recorder or he is watching the videos of the victims, trying to figure out how Dollarhyde chose these families. Then there is one or two scenes where is looking out a window and he is posturing. “I’ll get you bad guy. It is just a matter of time, blah blah blah.” I laughed during these scenes because they are so out of place. It is like he is Dr. Claw from Inspector Gadget. “Next time Gadget. Next tiiiimmmme!” Just brought a smile to my face thinking that Michael Mann wrote that dialogue and thought it was good enough to put into the film.

The action scene that ends the film is another thing I had a problem with. It is so boring and shot so poorly that I swear there are shots in this scene where no one is in the shot. Mann would go on to direct one of the best shoot out scenes of all time with Heat (1995) so it made me wonder if I had seen it wrongly. Nope, there is a shot or two where there is nothing happening. Why is that shot there? Also, there are some jump cuts that seem really out of place. I don’t know. The scene is so short that it doesn’t even matter.

Manhunter is not a very good film. The performances are really good, especially by Brian Cox, but they don’t save the film. If Mann had rewritten the second half to be as good as the first half, we might have had a good film on our hands. As it stands, though, Manhunter is half a good film.

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