On August 15, 1986, director Michael Mann debuted his heavily stylized adaptation of Thomas Harris’s bestselling novel, Red Dragon, as a movie called Manhunter. The film also featured our first glimpse of one of the most infamous characters in movie history: Hannibal Lector. Manhunter stars William Petersen as FBI agent Will Graham, Tom Noonan as Francis Dollarhyde (AKA the Tooth Fairy), and Brian Cox as Hannibal Lecktor (the spelling error was intentional).
At the beginning of the film, FBI agent Will Graham is enjoying his retirement by the ocean after narrowly surviving a run-in with the now confined Hannibal Lecktor. He is soon interrupted by his old boss, who tells him there is a new serial killer on the loose that he is killing entire families according to the cycle of the moon. Will decides to come out of retirement to help them find the psycho.
William Petersen gives an wonderful, understated performance as Will Graham. Comparisons will be made between his performance and that of Edward Norton’s in the film Red Dragon, but Peterson really captures the essence of Graham’s character. Peterson’s Graham is a man that is both physically and emotionally scarred, and who seems to simmer just on the edge of sanity throughout the film. Noonan’s Dollarhyde is both terrifying and sympathetic, which is no easy feat. There is no question that the role of Hannibal Lecter will always belong to Anthony Hopkins, but Brian Cox does a good job in the film.
Mann has a methodical and shrewd method of filming, and the result is a film that is gorgeous to look at. He skillfully saturates the screen with color and uses a pulsating soundtrack that reflects the mood. The earlier scenes by the ocean are quiet and washed out, and the bedroom scenes between Will and his wife are lit with blue, representing a place where he has found peace and safety. The scenes where Will retraces Dollarhyde’s footsteps to the edges of the screen are tinged in red and the score is ominous. The pulsating music used in the shootout is both jarring and strangely fitting.
Even thirty one years later, Manhunter still stands as a fine film achievement and as a great installment in the Hannibal Lecter film series.