Manhunter is a criminally underrated psychological thriller starring William Petersen, Dennis Farina, Tom Noonan, and Brian Cox. It was directed by none other than Michael Mann, who is known for critically acclaimed films like Heat, The Insider, Ali, and Collateral.
Manhunter is based off the novel Red Dragon by Thomas Harris. Red Dragon is the first in a series of novels featuring Dr. Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lecter. Yes, the same Hannibal later played by actor Anthony Hopkins in the much more widely known, critically acclaimed 1991 film The Silence of the Lambs, based off the book of the same name, which is a sequel to Red Dragon.
Despite being a great film, in my opinion, Manhunter, now considered a cult classic, was neither financially successful or well received by critics. Apparently, it was considered too “stylish.” I don’t even know what they were trying to convey, as I don’t see how this film is either “stylish” or “stylized,” which is what I thought they meant at first. I don’t know, maybe it has something to do with the 80’s that I don’t know about. The only “style” I see in the movie is the heavy synthesizer use, and, given how the synth was all the rage back then, I don’t see anything to complain about.
Petersen, who later became known as Gil Grissom on CSI, was criticized for his performance as Will Graham. I personally thought it was a very good, nuanced portrayal of a quiet man who is slightly disturbed by, though acceptive of, his remarkable empathetic abilities. He was much more believable in the role than Ed Norton was less than 20 years later.
This film is sufficiently entertaining and quite creepy. It wastes no time; it cuts through the B.S. The dialogue is slick, quick, and efficient. Brian Cox gives a great performance despite having a relatively small amount of screen time, Farina is believable as Crawford, Noonan gives a good performance, though I must admit, Ralph Fiennes is one of the only aspects of 2001’s Red Dragon I genuinely prefer over Manhunter.
Though it is not Michael Mann’s all-time greatest work, Manhunter deserves a heck of a lot more credit then it gets. Despite the film being considered a hidden gem, with a 97% approval on Rotten Tomatoes, not a lot of people seem to know about it, which is a real shame. Most likely, it’s been stuck in the shadow of Lambs, which is also a great film, don’t get me wrong. Even so, I think I may enjoy Manhunter more than Silence of the Lambs. (GASP!) It’s on Netflix, I recommend you go watch it when you have the time.