Manhunter Movie Review

Release: 1986, Rating: R, Runtime: 119 min.

Having just finished the Red Dragon book, I decided to get right into the first movie in the series, Manhunter. Directed by Michael Mann and released in 1986, Manhunter is for the most part, a faithful adaptation of Red Dragon, with only a few unnecessary changes and an overpowering and blaring 80s Michael Mann soundtrack. So, with that said, let’s hunt us a killer together and find out what I thought of it by reading on…

Short nitty-gritty plot description from IMDb is as follows: An FBI specialist tracks a serial killer who appears to select his victims at random.

If you’ve read my Red Dragon book review, you will already know what Manhunter is about. It follows the killings of The Tooth Fairy, also known as The Red Dragon and Will Graham’s investigation of him. Hannibal Lecter, or should I say Hannibal Leckter (for some strange reason they changed the spelling of his name), helps out a little and takes some enjoyment in taunting Graham and in effect puts Graham in the spotlight for The Tooth Fairy killer.

The movie follows the book closely for the first half or so, but does change up quite a few things later on. For one, the killer is less focused on in the movie and the relationship he has with the blind Reba McClane (Joan Allen), is sped through so quickly, it loses the emotional impact and sympathy you may have for the killer. We also get a completely different ending than the book, one that is more action focused and honestly, completely pointless and laughable. I much prefer the more thrilling, tense and downer ending the book gives you.

Dennis Farina as Jack Crawford.

Most people would think that no review would be complete without at least comparing Brain Cox’s Hannibal Lecter performance, to Anthony Hopkins. You would be wrong in doing this however. Cox’s performance of Lecter came several years before Hopkins and is a different take on the character. Even when talking about the books, Hannibal in Red Dragon seems different than what we get in Silence of the Lambs (from what I’ve noticed so far, as I’ve just started reading Silence), so comparing the performances would be a mistake, as even Thomas Harris didn’t completely figure out how he wanted the Lecter character to behave. However, I will say that I really enjoyed Cox’s laid back performance and the hidden menace, as he taunts Graham.

William Peterson plays Will Graham and does an admiral job portraying a troubled individual, who is haunted by his past and the things he has seen. I did occasionally chuckle at a few of the scenes where is talking to himself, as the performance seemed a little hammy, but I’m willing to let it slide, as Graham in the book was always talking to himself as well.

I already mentioned that The Tooth Fairy/Red Dragon is downplayed in the movie, so this actually comes has a big shame, as Tom Noonan’s portrayal of Francis Dollarhyde (once again, another name spelt differently, as it’s Dolarhyde in the book), is pretty damn outstanding. He is a creepy and frightening son of a bitch and does a great job at encapsulating the psychotic killer from the book. I just really wish we would’ve got to see more of him.

I’m not sure about a lot of people, but for me I can’t stand Michael Mann’s trademark blaring soundtrack that plays at all the wrong times. There are several points in the movie, where you’ll have a helluva time trying to hear the dialogue. Much like his other 80s effort, The Keep, Mann just doesn’t know when to tone down the music and dial back on the slow mo. I understand that back in the 80s this probably wouldn’t have been as cheesy, but nowadays it reeks of cheesy cheesiness.

In the end, Manhunter does a good job at recreating the Red Dragon book experience, but with several unneeded changes and 80s cheesiness. Still, the performances are what sells this movie and the story for the most part is fantastic (thanks to the fantastic book), with only a few scenes dragging it down. Fans of Red Dragon should be pleased in seeking this one out and giving it a watch, but just know that this isn’t Hannibal’s show, but Graham vs Tooth Fairy.


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