Friday 11 November 2022

Movie Review: Manhunter (1986)

A crime drama and thriller, Manhunter is a stylish mass murder investigation, combining psychology with dogged detective work. 

FBI criminal profiler Will Graham (William Petersen) retired after sustaining physical and psychological injuries apprehending cannibalistic genius Dr. Hannibal Lecktor (Brian Cox). When two families are slaughtered one month apart in two different states, the FBI's Jack Crawford (Dennis Farina) coaxes Will back into service to help identify the killer. Will reluctantly agrees despite concerns for his wife Molly (Kim Greist) and their young son.

Will visits the crime scenes, reviews home videos of the slaughtered families, and consults Lecktor in his prison cell to get into the mind of the killer. Lecktor seizes on the opportunity to pursue his own revenge agenda, and sleaze journalist Freddy Lounds (Stephen Lang) salivates over Will's return and the new sensational case. Meanwhile photography lab technician Francis Dollarhyde (Tom Noonan), an awkward and self-conscious loner, initiates a romance with his blind co-worker Reba McClane (Joan Allen).

Written and directed by Michael Mann, Manhunter oozes visual beauty. Eschewing the traditional gritty look of police work, Mann adapts Thomas Harris' book Red Dragon and opts for cool, calm, blue and purple views of oceans and skies kissed by idyllic sunsets. The characters slide in as silhouettes against stunning backdrops, offering moments of reprieve from the crime milieu. Will appears to live several neighbourhoods above the compensation level of a retired FBI agent, but Mann allows the discrepancy to capture nature's inherent beauty surrounding the human propensity for warped evil.

The investigative elements are busy, bordering on cluttered. Mann threatens to overwhelm the 120 minutes of running time by throwing plenty of evidential details into the script. Will's strength is his ability to connect the few dots and adopt the mental and visual perspective of assailants, an emotionally exhausting attribute. The second half shifts gears but only moves sideways to introduce Dollarhyde as the antagonist placing the vulnerable but still feisty Reba in danger.

William Petersen brings a requisite nervy coolness to the central role, inching towards the edge of snapping as Will gets closer to his target. Brian Cox as Lecktor and Tom Noonan as Dollarhye are adequate as the twin villains, but they are provided only limited opportunities to toy with genuine terror.

For a thriller about an unhinged mass murderer, the suspense scenes are few but mighty. A secondary character is a convenient ingredient for a flaming midway exit, and the climax builds to a satisfying just-in-time showdown. Manhunter delivers thrills when needed, but revels in all the necessary in-between mental jousting.

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