Wednesday 26 March 2008

Manhunter (1986)

With the plan of watching The Silence of the Lambs tomorrow night and reviewing it for my book on the IMDb Top 250, it seemed like an appropriate thing to watch Manhunter tonight. I love everything about this film, have seen it a number of times and have introduced it to many people. I also firmly believe that not only is the film better than The Silence of the Lambs, which I also enjoy and admire, but Brian Cox's performance as Hannibal Lecktor is better than the Oscar winning turn of Sir Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter. The only thing I haven't done is watch them back to back to be sure. After all both are true classics.

We start with Dennis Farina trying to coax William Petersen back into working for the FBI in order to catch a serial killer that already has two families to his credit. He's working on a lunar cycle and they're running out of time before the expected next victim. Petersen is the best but he's also retired, after serious mental trauma incurred catching Hannibal Lecktor. Farina and Petersen are hardly minor names in the business, though this dates back to 1986, well before Petersen would become Grissom in CSI. Naturally he takes the bait and becomes far more entangled in the search for the Tooth Fairy than he ever intended to be.

Petersen is simply awesome here. Every time I see the movie I see new facets of both his performance and those of other members of the cast and crew and find myself grinning in admiration all over again. He's very matter of fact, very capable, very professional, but also very different from anyone else investigating the case. They're cops, they're investigators, but Will Graham is there because he has an understanding of why insane people do what they do, what makes them tick, but he can't go too far down that path without feeling some of what they feel. That's why he needed psychiatric treatment after Lecktor.

The film is gorgeously constructed and gorgeously shot. Michael Mann is very inconsistent with his films, but when he gets it right he's a genius. He got it right in Heat and he got it incredibly right here. He may well have got it right in The Insider too, but I haven't caught that one yet. On the hand he certainly didn't get it right in The Keep. Here I'm seeing a lot of obvious skill, in composition and choice of architecture but a lot of subtle work too. It's in the way the camera moves; when it pans and when it jumps and when it switches back and forth from person to person; how the scenes transition. It's in the speed things move, not just the camera but the conversations.

There's so much subtlety throughout the whole first conversation between Graham and Lecktor that there should be cinematic textbooks written about it. There are subtle signals to show who has the upper hand at every step, how and when it switches, when control is gained and lost. It's genius acting, writing and directing and it's about as perfect a scene as I think I've ever been privileged to witness. Petersen is amazing here but so is Brian Cox as Dr Lecktor. Hopkins was great but Cox to me will always be Lecktor. Hopkins gave an awesome performance but Cox went beyond that in my mind, from playing a part to being Lecktor. For him not to be recognised as a genius for this performance is truly outrageous. He is hardly in this film but he's amazingly memorable.

There are four genius performance here on screen, not that anyone in the entire film lets the side down. The third is Stephen Lang who plays Freddy Lounds, a tabloid journalist for The Tattler, and he's a totally sleazy yet very believable piece of work. I've seen him elsewhere and couldn't even recognise him. That's a really good sign of a really good actor. The fourth is Tom Noonan, playing the Tooth Fairy, Francis Dollarhyde. We don't even see him until over half the way through the movie and when we first see him, we only see the bottom half of his legs, and we're still impacted. When we finally see his face and Noonan says 'Here I am' and puts a gap between the second and third word, we're sold. Further scenes just amaze, including a very strange love scene. Ralph Fiennes in the dire remake Red Dragon doesn't even come close.

At one point Francis Dollarhyde tells Freddy Lounds that he owes him awe. That's what I feel when watching this movie, even though I've seen it many times before. I'm awed at the achievement.

1 comment:

Bobbi said...

Excellent review of one of my all time favorite movies. I'm not only a fan of Micheal Mann, but Billy Petersen is one of the best, yet least recognized, actors out there today. If you truly liked his acting skills, I highly recommend that you watch "Kiss the Sky", one of the best emotionally charged movies I've ever seen.