Retro Movie Review: Manhunter (1986)

May 13, 2011

Manhunter posterby Peter Nielsen

”Have you ever seen blood in the moonlight, Will? It appears quite black.”

These are words spoken by Dr. Hannibal Lecktor, while discussing the Tooth Fairy-case with Will Graham. And before you start correcting me on Dr. Lecktor’s name – this was the way they spelled it in this version of Thomas Harris’ novel Red Dragon. I actually prefer this version over the new one and think Brian Cox does a better job portraying the doctor than Sir Anthony Hopkins did.

But for the record I think he does an amazing job in both Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal, but Brian Cox is absolutely outstanding in Manhunter. You might also know him from Braveheart, The Long Kiss Goodnight, The Bourne Identity and many, many more…

Will Graham, brilliantly played by William Petersen (To Live and Die in L.A., Young Guns II and CSI), is a retired FBI-agent, a profiler, and the one who caught Dr. Lecktor a couple of years earlier. That encounter almost cost him his life as well as his sanity and now his friend and former boss Jack Crawford needs his help in catching a brutal serial-killer known as the Tooth Fairy.

Will reluctantly agrees as long as he can be kept out of the media for his and his family’s sake. His wife Molly, played by Kim Greist, is not happy about him getting involved since she’s afraid it’ll make him sick again. He promises he won’t get in too deep and thus begins the hard and arduous work of puzzling the pieces together and forming a picture of who the killer is and how he works.

Will goes to the latest crime-scene and also watches home-movies of the two families killed by the Tooth Fairy, trying to put himself in the killer’s place and mind. This is also why he pays a visit to Dr. Lecktor. To get his opinion on the case, but mainly to recover, as he puts it, the mind set. To get the scent back again, if you will. Unbeknownst to them, Dr. Lecktor is secretly corresponding with the killer, encouraging him to go further… “Save yourself! Kill them all!”

The doctor's in...

The doctor’s in…

But of course word gets out to the public about Will’s involvement through a nosy and slimy reporter named Freddy Lounds, with whom Will has had a run-in before, right after his capture of Dr. Lecktor. It’s safe to say, there’s no warm feelings between them.

It’s decided to use Lounds and his newspaper The Tattler to try to lure the killer into making a mistake. Things go wrong and… well, let’s just say that Lounds is used as a message.

We’re now introduced to the killer, Francis Dollarhyde, a very shy man who has problems with intimacy in his every-day life. He’s played by Tom Noonan who also starred as Frankenstein’s monster in The Monster Squad and as Arnold Schwarzenegger’s antagonist in Last Action Hero.

When his blind co-worker, Reba, takes an interest in him he is overwhelmed by a lot of different feelings and emotions like happiness, awkwardness, sadness and also jealousy. He’s very kind to her but there’s always the sense of dread hanging in the air. In the end when he feels

You owe me AWE!

You owe me AWE!

betrayed he finally snaps and in a chilling scene he tells her that he’s “Not Francis. Francis is gone! Francis is gone forever!”

On the other end Will is slowly getting closer and at the same time losing himself in the killer’s fantasy. This is what the movie does fantastically well. It slowly builds up the tension and gains momentum as it progresses. It literally feels like you’re on the edge of your seat when you reach the climactic end.

The final shoot-out is filmed with multiple cameras at different speeds, which gives it an almost unearthly feel and the use of Iron Butterfly’s song In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida is fantastic. Music on the whole is used very well throughout the movie, together with colors and lighting to convey a specific mood or emotion. Along with brilliant actors , of course!

The opening scenes with Jack Crawford visiting Will are accompanied by Kitaro, one of my favorite composers and musicians. Beautiful and soothing music that sets the mood perfectly! Jack is played by the great Dennis Farina whom you may recognize from Midnight Run, Get Shorty and the TV-show Crime Story which also starred Stephen Lang, who plays the slimy reporter Lounds.

Manhunter has a distinct Michael Mann-style to it, which is not a bad thing. He has after all directed great movies such as Heat, The Keep and The Last of the Mohicans just to name a

Will Graham & Jack Crawford

Will Graham & Jack Crawford

few. He was also the executive producer on the successful TV-show Crime Story and another little show you might have heard of… Miami Vice. Every shot in Manhunter is meticulously planned to look great and to really use the whole frame. The scene between Will and Dr. Lecktor for instance, was shot in a way that even though the camera-angle change, the bars between them never move.

I once caught a late-night showing of it on some TV-channel a couple of years back. It was a full-screen version and not even a Pan & Scan one, which in some scenes was ridiculous. Like in the abovementioned, where Will is on one side of the screen and the doctor on the other, but since it was a full-screen version it only showed a white wall. To say it was bad would have been an act of kindness. I couldn’t even finish it! The movie was designed to be seen in its original format, in which it looks fantastic.

Oh, and by the way, if you happen to watch the longer director’s cut, there’s a brief scene at the end where Will goes to visit the family that were supposed to have been the next victims and it shows that he has indeed been affected by the case. Very creepy!

And on that thought I’ll leave you, so until next time my friends…


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