Manhunter (Michael Mann, 1986, USA)

Michael Mann's third feature, Manhunter was adapted from the 1981 thriller by author Thomas Harris. Unsuccessful upon its release, it has since gained new appreciation - as most Mann films have. Drenched in 80s style and aesthetics, Mann takes a much different variation on the Hannibal Lecter series than Jonathan Demme. His Manhunter is largely a cop thriller, a slow burn between the hunter and the hunted that culminates in an explosive finale. As with all great Mann films, including Heat, the line demarcating the law and the criminal is not always certain.

Our protagonist here is Will Graham (William Petersen, later of CSI fame). Recovering from a mental breakdown, Graham is approached by his former FBI boss Jack Crawford (Dennis Farina) to hunt down an elusive family murdered called "the Tooth Fairy." As Graham becomes progressively more estranged from his wife and stepson due to the pressures of the job, we are introduced further into the world of Francis Dollarhyde - aka the Tooth Fairy. At a certain point, we are led more to identify with Dollarhyde (Tom Noonan) than Graham. This blurring of the lines is intentional. The presence of "Lecktor" as he is called here, played by Brian Cox, is largely secondary in comparison to later Harris adaptations.

From the excellent soundtrack by Michel Rubini and The Reds to the gorgeous cinematographer by Dante Spinotti, Manhunter is a pure feast for the senses. While a failure in its original theatrical run, the film has since been appreciated for its aesthetic sensibility and its psychological ambiguity. From start to finish, Manhunter conveys a hypnotic hold - its images are not easy to forget. Even not having seen the film for many years, I was remembering scenes that I thought were half-remembered dreams. Manhunter is a masterpiece in Mann's filmography.



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