Winners, Losers, and Survivors: A Crime Blog [Manhunter Review]


After all of the footage for a movie is shot, an editor is hired to take this jumbled footage and create a coherent story out of it. Police — primarily detectives — have this job as well. Detectives take jumbled pieces of evidence and organize it, to deduce a coherent story. Editing and detective work both revolve around putting the pieces together. I’m putting the pieces together in my film, and while doing so would like to look at some Police Procedural films that do the same. 

The first film I will look at is Michael Mann’s Manhunter from 1986. This is one of Mann’s earlier films, and my personal favorite. It is also the first Hannibal Lecter film and –– once again –– my personal favorite. It also contains my best-loved performance by classic 80’s actor William Petersen. It follows Will Graham (Petersen), who quit the FBI after capturing a cannibalistic psychiatrist by the name of Hannibal Lecter. Graham returns to the Bureau to hunt down a new serial killer called “The Tooth Fairy.” The film follows Graham on the hunt for this killer, which leads him to seek the aid of Dr. Lecter, who plans to seek vengeance on the agent for capturing him.


I have not read the Thomas Harris novels that the Hannibal films are based off of, so I can’t compare the film to the books. I’ve seen Red Dragon, which is the more recent retelling of the story, and stars Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter and Edward Norton as Will Graham. I like the new version but I still think this version is the the best, and my favorite of the stories based off the Thomas Harris novels. The film has the classic story archetype that has diffused into what most cop dramas chronicle on a daily basis. Manhunter stays fresh because of its style, and characters.


William Petersen is amazing as Will Graham. Petersen is a master at playing law enforcement officers that constantly hinge between good and evil. He doesn’t play a corrupt cop like in To Live and Die in LA, and instead is an FBI Criminal Profiler who has a knack for getting into the mindset of the serial killers he hunts. Petersen always has a fearful look on his face. It’s not him fearing the people he’s hunting, but more of the fear that he could very well be one of those people. I mistook Petersen for the “Tooth Fairy” multiple times (before they revealed the true identity of “Tooth Fairy”). Every time he moves while hidden in the shadows on dark city streets, he looks like he’s trying to kill someone. Every time Graham visits a crime scene he gets this look of both horror and excitement, an excitement he tries to hide from, part of the reason he probably quit his job in the first place.


The supporting cast is also great. You get a good feel for Will Graham’s family and what they went through when he left the Bureau (and ended up in a mental hospital). The other members of the Bureau don’t do as much, but many of Will’s cohorts are played by some classic 80s actors who deliver some great lines. The other two cast members to look at are Thomas Noonan as Francis Dollarhyde AKA The “Tooth Fairy”, and Brian Cox as Hannibal Lecter. Noonan is chilling as a seemingly gentle giant who has a sick mind and is intent on metamorphosis through committing a series of murders. Very little is revealed about him but the audience spends enough time with Dollarhyde to get to know him, just not well enough to know what he’ll do next. The best serial killers in film are those that are unpredictable and Noonan fits the bill well (he also wears really lame shirts, but it hard to find good clothes when you’re tall so it’s okay). Cox does a fine job as Hannibal Lecter. He certainly isn’t as iconic as Anthony Hopkins, but I never found Anthony Hopkins to be frightening; he was just fun to watch. Hopkins’ line delivery was unintentionally humorous and hard to take seriously. Cox is a much more serious Lecter and for the few scenes he is in, he shows his cunning, and his hatred for will Graham.


Michael Mann brings a fantastic 80s style to this film. There is a kickass synthesizer soundtrack that works to build tension. Every shot has a specific color scheme. Some scenes are full on blue. Some scenes carry a neon green color and others are shrouded in white. The cinematography and color schemes are great and add so much to the film. The film starts a little slow like many Michael Mann movies, but as the stakes get higher and tension builds, the more I feel glued to my seat. This is a classic 80s police procedural and amazing serial killer film.


Favorite Scene: The showdown at the end utilizes good slow motion out of what could be really cheesy slow motion.

Written by Tyler Ducheneaux

Images From Manhunter

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