Posted September 15, 2011 by David Watson in DVD/Blu-ray
 
 

Manhunter


After two families are butchered on successive full moons by a serial killer dubbed the ‘Tooth Fairy’ (Tom Noonan), FBI profiler Will Graham (William L Petersen) is forced back out of retirement

After two families are butchered on
successive full moons by a serial killer dubbed the ‘Tooth Fairy’ (Tom Noonan),
FBI profiler Will Graham (William L Petersen) is forced back out of retirement
in a desperate attempt to catch the killer. A gifted detective, Graham is both blessed and cursed by an
almost psychic capacity for empathy, allowing him to track the killer by
reconstructing their state of mind.
Will, however, is a little rusty at this whole mind-stalking thing
having had a nervous breakdown after his last big case, so, needing a little
help getting back up on the horse, he visits caged serial killer and former
psychiatrist, Dr Hannibal Lecktor (Brian Cox) for advice and to recover the
‘mind-scent.’ But even from his
prison cell, Lecktor is a master manipulator and the Tooth Fairy is closing in
on his next victim…

Everyone has
their favourite Bond. For some,
it’s Oirish charmer Pierce Brosnan, old Remington
Steele
himself, who brought a flirtatious roguishness back to the role
after Timothy Dalton’s rather earnest incarnation. For others, it’s Roger Moore, all raised eyebrows and a Carry On-style double entendre never
far away, who, by the end of his tenure, was starting to morph into his
Spitting Image puppet. Some people
even like Daniel Craig’s Method Thug, a Bourne
Again Bond, stripped of his gadgets and forced to rely on his wits, his fists
and some parkour.

No-one likes
George Lazenby though. He was
rubbish.

For most people,
their favourite Bond is their first one, the one they grew up with, Mishter
Sean Connery. Connery had it all;
Brosnan’s Celtic charm, Moore’s fondness for puns and casually sexist
one-liners, Craig’s thuggish physicality.
He was the perfect Bond.

Similarly, for
many people, Thomas Harris’ suave,
debonair, serial killer and gastronaut Dr Hannibal Lecter is Anthony Hopkins who, in an
Oscar-winning panto turn in Jonathan
Demme
’s The Silence Of The Lambs,
chewed more scenery than faces.
Hopkins’ Lecter is almost a Grand Guignol riff on Roger Moore’s Bond;
the arch tone, the knowing asides, the stiff theatricality, the bad jokes. By the end of The Silence Of The Lambs, Lecter has become Bond with a cookbook; a
globetrotting assassin cooing down the phone at Jodie Foster’s Starling “I’m
having an old friend for dinner,” as he watches his former jailer and
prospective victim get off a plane.
With his camp, affected delivery, slicked-back hair and too-tight prison
duds Hopkins was about as scary as Pee Wee Herman. When you watch Manhunter,
you get the feeling Brian Cox’s earlier incarnation of the good doctor would
have had Tony for breakfast.

It’s almost a
tragedy that in the years since its release Michael Mann’s lean, stylish Manhunter has been overshadowed by
Jonathan Demme’s rather more bloated, Oscar-laden The Silence Of The Lambs which was based on the second in a series
of novels featuring cannibalistic psychiatrist Dr Hannibal Lecter, and every
review must address this, must compare and contrast. There is no real comparison though. Based on Harris’ earlier novel Red Dragon, Manhunter makes The Silence
Of The Lambs
look, well, decidedly sheepish. For all it’s surface gloss and ‘80s sheen, Manhunter’s a more thoughtful, intelligent
piece of work, a subtle, restrained, adult film which insidiously works its way
under your skin. Until its bold
climactic shootout (a collision of different film speeds and a flurry of jump cuts)
Manhunter displays surprisingly
little on-screen violence but it exudes a pervasive atmosphere of violence, of
growing menace. Manhunter is a film which dares to confront
the everyday banality of evil.

Manhunter is formally challenging in a way that
the more pedestrian The Silence Of The
Lambs
simply isn’t. Mann creates a mood of oppression, of claustrophobia,
of alienation, of constant threat through his use of colour: electric blues,
vivid reds, sickly greens, brilliant whites. There’s a clinical sterility in the film’s Lecter scenes (here
renamed Lecktor for some unknown reason), the white on white décor of the cell
bleaching the colour from the room, disorientating the audience and it’s proxy,
Graham, who sits facing Lecter through the bars. They talk in reverse reflective shots which serve to frame
each character within the bars of Lecter’s cell; effectively putting Graham behind
bars. The meaning is clear. Graham and Lecter are doppelgangers,
dark twins, the twisted psychopath a shadowy reflection of the haunted
detective. Staring at Graham, Lectcer
says: “The reason you caught me Will is we’re just alike. You want the scent? Smell yourself.” Nothing in The Silence Of The Lambs is as interesting or creepy as this one
scene. Not even when Ted Levine’s
Buffalo Bill tucks his genitals between his legs to give himself a ‘mangina’
and dances around his basement like a big girl.

As with all
Mann’s films there’s a fetishisation of minutiae, of technology. Mann is fascinated by the intricacies
of forensic detection; the dusting of eyeballs for fingerprints, the examination
of evidence using infra-red and lasers revealing clues invisible to the naked
eye. But Mann also turns his cool,
analytical eye to the psychopathology of his central character of FBI manhunter
Graham. Graham is a man who is
able to coolly, dispassionately analyse and deconstruct a scene of carnage, to build
thoughts and feelings which allow him to enter the killer’s world, to dream his
dreams.

Manhunter explicitly implicates the audience in
the crimes and actions of its protagonists. As Graham physically retraces the Tooth Fairy’s steps, he
speaks aloud into a tape recorder, mentally reconstructing the killer’s
actions, allowing the audience to share his critical and, perhaps, vicarious
view of the killings. Both Graham and
the Tooth Fairy make extensive use of home movies and video. The Tooth Fairy uses mirrors in his
crimes. Graham constantly studies
his own reflection, as if ensuring his own identity. Manhunter is a
film that is all about the audience’s scopophilic gaze and its harmful power.

Noonan’s Tooth
Fairy is a chilling and horrifically sympathetic creation; a damaged,
inarticulate child-man who desires acceptance but can only find it through
horrific acts of slaughter. As
Petersen’s Graham tells a colleague: “As a
child, my heart bleeds for him. Someone took a little boy and turned him into a
monster. But as an adult…he’s irredeemable. He butchers whole families to
fulfill some sick fantasy. As an adult, someone should blow the sick f*ck out
of his socks.”

As Graham, William Petersen is a
nervy, intense presence. While
placid and flat with his colleagues, exuding an almost Zen calm, when alone
with his thoughts he’s mercurial, the rage he keeps tightly bound bubbling
over. The scene where he finally
puts the killer’s motive together and deduces how to catch him is almost
unbearably tense while an earlier scene where he shops in a supermarket with
his young son warily asking him about his work is beautifully played,
domesticity triumphing over horror.
It’d be a decade and a half before Petersen got another part as good,
the spiritually similar Gil Grissom in TV’s CSI.

In just three short scenes
however, Brian Cox dominates as Lecktor/Lecter. Quiet, subtle and silkily seductive Cox does the one thing
Hopkins never managed; he convinces as a psychiatrist. Hopkins was fine at the face-munching
but you never took him seriously as anything other than the big, bad wolf. You couldn’t imagine ever sitting down
and paying this guy to listen to your problems, expose your weaknesses to him. Cox on the other hand is so charming
you’d tell him anything, everything.
The devil lurks behind his dark eyes and unlike Hopkins he’s not
sniffing you like a dog, naming your skin cream and assuring you he can’t smell
your **** like the guy in the next cell.
He’s asking how the family is, if you’re having nightmares, observing
that you’re looking tanned, noting with amusement that your aftershave has a
ship on the bottle and wheedling your home address out of you so he can send a
killer to your door. Cox is truly
terrifying because if it wasn’t for the bars and the prison uniform, your first
inkling that he maybe didn’t have your best interests at heart would be when he
was gutting you.

Intense, contemplative and
disturbing, Manhunter is an
intelligent thriller that demands to be rediscovered.

To Pre-Order Manhunter on Blu-Ray click Here


David Watson

 
David Watson is a screenwriter, journalist and 'manny' who, depending on time of day and alcohol intake could be described as a likeable misanthrope or a carnaptious bampot. He loves about 96% of you but there's at least 4% he'd definitely eat in the event of a plane crash. Email: david.watson@filmjuice.com