Manhunter Blu-ray review
|REVIEWS - BLU-RAY REVIEWS|
Revisiting a taut thriller that's only getting better with age...
It's incredible to think that it's a quarter of a century since the cinematic world was introduced to a certain cannibalistic psychiatrist, but this 25th Anniversary Blu-ray release of Michael Mann's seminal 1986 classic Manhunter reminds us just what an enigmatic and powerful character Doctor Hannibal Lecter is.
Though it would be another five years before Anthony Hopkins indelibly burned the role into the world's psyche in Jonathan Demme's Oscar-raiding The Silence Of The Lambs (1991), one of only three films to date to scoop all five of the main prizes (the other two being It Happened One Night in 1934 and One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest in 1975), it is Brain Cox's interpretation of the good doctor that many, myself included, consider to be the superior psychopath. Hopkins's performance was undeniably masterful, hence his golden statue, but there was a certain humour to Cox's Lecter that perfectly underpinned his lack of morals, compassion and empathy. (Cox even wanted to have Lecter sing Stevie Wonder's "I Just Called To Say I Love You" down the phone to Graham, but they were unable to secure the necessary rights to the song.)
That Cox turned down the chance to reprise the role due to his policy of not doing sequels raises one of those eternal 'what if' questions as to what this alternate reality version of Silence might have been like, as does the prospect of those who were considered alongside Cox, namely Mandy Patinkin, Brian Dennehy and John Lithgow, who later earned his psycho badge as Dexter's Trinity Killer.
On screen for just three scenes, Cox's Doctor Lecter (spelled Lecktor in the movie for reasons that have never been explained) absolutely commands attention, both from the audience and from the protagonist, retired FBI Special Agent Will Graham (CSI's William Petersen), who has been emotionally blackmailed into returning to work to help catch a particularly nasty serial killer by his old boss Jack Crawford (Dennis Farina, who had previously appeared in several episodes of Michael Mann's era defining series Miami Vice).
Left mentally and physically scarred after capturing Lecktor three years earlier, the solitary face to face scene that the two men share has the intensity of an industrial laser as Graham visits his old adversary to ostensibly ask for his help on the case, a ruse that Lecter immediately sees straight through, challenging Graham to admit that he has only come to 'get back into the game'.
Throughout this scene, there is little doubt as to who is in charge, and it is to Petersen's credit that in selling Will Graham so convincingly as a flawed and troubled man, reluctantly drawn back into the world of psychological profiling that he had tried to leave behind not because he wants to, but because he can't not at least try and save more families from the Tooth Fairy killer, that we feel a great sympathy and empathy for him. As a result, Graham comes across as a brave man for facing his own personal demon through the stark white bars even through he is ultimately forced to flee the cell, intimidated once more by Lecter's arrogance and intelligence.
Though sold largely on the Graham / Lecktor relationship, as with The Silence Of The Lambs - which in many ways is as much of a retelling of Manhunter as it is a true sequel, their relationship akin to that of the Evil Dead II to its lower budget predecessor - the catalyst for the interplay between the two men (reprised and expanded in the scenes between Jodie Foster and Hopkins five years later) is the homicidal third man, in this case one Francis Dollarhyde, the Tooth Fairy.
Played by Tom Noonan, Dollarhyde is an oft overlooked, but equally vital character in Manhunter, in that rather than being just another psycho of the week, the motives behind his undeniably sickening crimes are frighteningly, and heartbreakingly human. Afflicted with a hare lip, Noonan convincingly portrays Dollarhyde as an ordinary, lonely man who wants nothing more than to be wanted, to be adored by somebody; a yearning that is conveyed with devastating, dialogue-free effect towards the end of the film's second act when he deliberately lets his guard down after becoming close to a blind co-worker at the film processing company that he works for (a sensitive and touching performance by Joan Allen).
To say more about Francis Dollarhyde (which like Lecter, is spelled differently in the novel, appearing as Dolarhyde) is to risk spoiling the film for those who haven't yet seen it (and if you're one of them, I urge you to do so), but it must be noted that Noonan's performance elicits both sympathy and empathy for a character that, given he has slaughtered two families, we should hate. That we don't, speaks volumes not only for the actor, but also for the source material, the novel Red Dragon by Thomas Harris (published in 1981), which is quite possibly one of the finest thrillers ever written. Forget your Da Vinci Codes (which before you light your torches and sharpen your pitchforks, I must stress that I did like for the pulp fiction it was), every single sentence of Red Dragon is considered and relevant, and though Manhunter is a faithful and entertaining adaptation, more so than the 2002 remake, it still doesn't come close to exploring the depths of the source material.
That said, Manhunter remains one of cinema's rediscovered treasures, having garnered mixed reviews and grossing just over half of the fifteen million dollar budget on its initial release, and like other such movies – John Carpenter's The Thing (1982), Ridley Scott's Blade Runner (1982), Richard Kelly's Donnie Darko (2001) – it has slowly but surely generated positive word of mouth over the years and become a classic.
It has also been responsible for effectively shaping the landscape of television's police procedurals, being cited as a major influence in the creation of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (2000 - present), particularly for the realistic forensic scenes, and given that William Petersen went on to define that show as Gil Grissom, Manhunter can be considered not only a prequel to The Silence Of The Lambs (1991), but also to CSI – a kind of CSI: Miami Vice if you will (or CSI: Young Grissom if you really must, and I appreciate that there are those of you reading this that will be distracted by Petersen's buff body and short shorts).
This new digitally restored Blu-Ray release, then, is very welcome, and while the score definitely feels dated the visuals and the film itself have held up surprisingly well. Cinematographer Dante Spinotti's strong use of hues to enhance the mood of various scenes are particularly effective, and Mann's distinctive directorial style deftly underpins the weighty subject matter, though there are a couple moments that are pure Miami Vice style over substance, but these are few and far between and don't overshadow the overall experience.
Mention must also be made of Stephen Lang, most recently seen on the big screen as dastardly Colonel Miles Quaritch in James Cameron's Avatar (2009), whose performance as relentless journalist Freddy Lounds provides a suitably annoying thorn in Graham's side for the first half of the movie before Dollarhyde quite literally eliminates his competition in a scene that regularly crops up in lists of cinema's scariest moments.
In short, Manhunter has aged gracefully, and remains an fascinating movie for anybody even remotely entertained by thrillers and police procedurals, and an essential one for those who appreciate a deep, complex story and realistically flawed, but ultimately human, characters.
The 2000 Director's Cut (complete with commentary) is included as an extra, but while there are a number of small changes to the Theatrical Cut, there's nothing added or subtracted that makes much of a difference to, or improves the original, and the popular consensus, mine included, is to stick with the original vision.
In terms of other extras, there's nothing new for this release, which is a shame as Manhunter is crying out for a feature length retrospective given the influence that it has had over the the last quarter of a century, and particularly the last decade. That said, the seventeen minute 'Inside Manhunter' featurette and ten minute interview with cinematographer Dante Spinotti are both interesting and informative, and the release in rounded out by the theatrical trailer.
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