The first Hannibal Lecter movie, Manhunter is a stylish thriller. The Director's Cut did come out, but I'm not sure what was added. This review was originally posted on June 6, 2003. I still haven't seen Red Dragon.
Manhunter is the first movie featuring AFI's #1 Movie Villian of all time, Hannibal Lecter. It was directed by Michael Mann, of TV's Miami Vice fame, and owes a lot to his arresting visual style. It is a very intense movie, although the ending is something of a letdown.
William L. Petersen stars as the troubled FBI agent Will Graham, who, in his previous case, finally put Hannibal Lecter behind bars. But it left him with emotional scars, and he only reluctantly gets involved in the next serial murderer's trail. His wife, nobly played by Kim Greist, is, of course, dead set against it, and despite even his misgivings, he heads off.
In order to get his head back into the game, Agent Graham goes back and talks with the incarcerated Lecter, played with a smarmy British evil by Brian Cox. Cox's Lecter holds up very well to the one later made famous by Anthony Hopkins, even if he has only two short scenes. I really like the completely white cell he is caged in.
Tom Noonan plays the wacky Francis Dollarhyde, who steals home movies of his victims and gets off watching them before slaughtering the entire family. He does a great job of using his face and especially his hands to indicate the trauma tearing him up inside. For reasons not explained in the movie, he only attacks during the full moon (a tad mainstream, wouldn't you say?), and there is a race to find him before he kills again.
Francis is almost saved by a relationship with a blind woman, Reba McClane (Joan Allen), who shows him that sight isn't everything. But his own special blindness strikes again, and he envisions her cheating so he grabs her and takes her off to his house. There the FBI, local police and Will Graham crash his planned party, with much bloodshed and violence.
I have not seen the second take on Thomas Harris' first Lecter novel Red Dragon, which starred Hopkins, Ralph Fiennes as Dollarhyde and Edward Norton as Graham, but I will and will compare it to this one. I did really like the film work - the lighting and soundtrack did a great job of conveying the mood and action, as one might expect from Mann. I did not like the ending, because, as a friend who watched it with me said, it didn't have anything to do with the crimes being planned. It was an impetuous kidnapping of Reba, and the subsequent shootout happened to coincide with the kidnapping, not the planned serial murder, so you never really got a feel for his criminal mastery, except whe he sees through a ruse of the FBI, who used a reporter to try and lure him out, much the reporter's chagrin.
But it is a definite rental, and word on the street has it that there is a new "Director's Cut" DVD coming out. This DVD was pretty barebones - a couple of small featurettes interviewing some of the actors, and the trailer. But the new one promises to have full commentary from Mann. Be sure to turn the lights down real low, and enjoy the film!