Manhunter (1986)

Michael Mann’s films are always full of striking imagery and breathtaking visual moments and Manhunter is no different. The man knows how to frame and shoot a film. Based on the novel Red Dragon, Manhunter follows Will Graham (William Peterson), an ex-FBI agent who specializes in criminal profiling and hunting serial killers. Famous for tracking down Hannibal Lecktor, Graham subsequently suffered severe mental and emotional trauma, dragged out of retirement by colleague Jack Crawford (Dennis Farina) to hunt down “The Tooth Fairy,” a serial killer attacking families. 

Director of Photography Dante Spinotti often heavily tints the film, and he and Mann work together to create an oozing and evocative atmosphere full of ambiguity and tension. Brian Cox joins in as Hannibal Lecktor, further emphasizing the film’s parallels between protagonist and antagonist. Cox gets minimal screen time but leaves maximum impact, choosing to play Lecktor subtly instead of chewing any and all scenery in sight. It’s an unsettling performance and the minimalism of the role works to great effect.

Mann’s consistent exploration of masculinity and the line between civilian and criminal plays itself out once again. Tom Noonan is profoundly creepy as serial killer Francis Dollarhyde but also delivers a multifaceted performance, emanating humanity and turmoil alongside a constant threatening state. Brilliant work. Mann “humanizes the devil” superbly, continuously drawing comparisons between Graham and Dollarhyde, replicating shots, Spinotti’s heavily tinted cinematography turning the film into a compelling psychological experience. Unlike some I found the music primarily off-putting and not in line with the rest of the film. When the music does work, however, it really works (particularly in the finale, which includes Iron Butterfly’s “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida”).

Psychologically effective, visually striking, unsettling, yet effortlessly cool, Manhunter stands as one of the greatest “serial killer thrillers” ever released. You can find it streaming on Netflix now!

★★★★

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