MGM // 1986 // 120 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // October 12th, 2011
It's just you and me now, sport...
Writer after writer, and filmmaker after filmmaker has learned that it's always better to not show the monster. The more we as the audience see, the less frightening an enemy becomes. Familiarity, they say, breeds contempt, and I can almost certainly imagine a horror more powerfully than the writer or filmmaker can present that horror. The idea, basically, is to enhance, rather than replace, the reader's or viewer's imagination. Apparently, nobody sent that memo to Thomas Harris. While his first two Hannibal Lector books (Red Dragon and The Silence Of The Lambs) kept the good doctor as a somewhat peripheral character, allowing him to loom in the shadows at the margins of other serial killers' stories. Then he proved so popular (largely due to Anthony Hopkins award-winning performance) that Harris felt compelled to make him the focus with Hannibal, and then he went the whole demystification route with Hannibal Rising, providing us with an explanation for Lector's particular peccadilloes. Now, he's just another monster who's come into the light.
Before all that, Michael Mann took on the role of being first to venture into Harris' world for a cinematic treatment of Lector, and his Manhunter was a strange hybrid of 1980s-style psycho movies. The result is an interesting twist on Mann's interest in cops and criminals. Although not the knockout on hi-def that fans might be hoping for, Manhunter (Blu-ray) is a worthwhile entry in the Lector canon.
Will Graham (William Petersen, To Live and Die in L.A.) put Hannibal Lecktor (Brian Cox, Red) away, and is now retired from the FBI. Then his boss approaches him because a killer has already taken out two families and the next one could be soon. With Lecktor there to give his insight into the mind of the killer, Graham must use his skills to catch the killer.
Manhunter survives thanks to its performances and atmosphere. It's a weird hybrid film in that it tries to be a thriller (with the clock racing against Will), a psychological film (getting at the mind of a serial killer, taking us inside his mind), and a bit of a horror film (since Lecktor and the other serial killer are both pretty scary guys). For those, like me, who were introduced to William Petersen via his paternal role on CSI, his 1980s work (including both Manhunter and To Live and Die in L.A.) is a revelation. He's young, vibrant, and can-do here. Even though he's supposed to be retired due to exhaustion and haunted by his past, racing against the clock gives his character a vitality that he embodies perfectly. His opposite, the inimitable Lecktor, is played to perfection by Brian Cox. Whereas Hopkins took home the gold by amping up the theatricality of the character, Cox gives him a feral intelligence and menacing suavity that's completely different but equally brilliant. Finally, Tom Noonan gives his Francis Dollarhyde a complexity that's surprising. Ralph Fiennes was definitely creepier in Red Dragon, but Noonan's performance is more layered; it's easier to believe he's a human monster rather than some demonic embodiment of a Blake etching. There's an everyman quality to Noonan's performance that links his Dollarhyde to Silence's Buffalo Bill, making him a more appropriate counterpoint to Lecktor than Fiennes' portrayal.
Mann also doesn't skimp on the atmosphere. The film has a cool, measured pace that's his trademark. The use of color is occasionally striking, and the film isn't afraid to have dark scenes (unlike so many over-lit contemporary thrillers). It's not the total triumph that later films like Heat would offer, but Manhunter shows Mann's potential as a filmmaker.
Manhunter has had a checkered history on home video. It was released in its theatrical cut (the one included here), and then again as a dual disc release with both the director's cut and the theatrical cut, along with a host of extras. All versions suffered from some problems, either in supplements or with so-so transfers. Most of those problems have been corrected here. The AVC-encoded transfer is a mixed bag, though generally strong. Grain is appropriately handled for the most part, and detail is solid. However, some of the darker scenes show inconsistent black levels and excessive noise reduction, rendering them flat. Colors, however, are well saturated. It's a definite improvement over the previous DVD releases, but not quite perfect. The DTS-HD 5.1 track fares a little better. Dialogue is clean and clear out of the center channel, while the film's rockin' synth score comes out clearly from the stereo field and atmospheric sounds fill the rear channels.
The disc totally falls down, however, in the extras department. There are none. No commentary. No featurettes. Not even the director's cut offered as a branching option.
I'm not one of those critics who will argue that Manhunter is as good as (or almost as good as) The Silence of the Lambs. It's certainly the second-best Lector film, but it's not quite in the same league as Silence.
For fans looking to watch Manhunter in HD, this disc will fit the bill pretty nicely. Hopefully this release will also bring some new fans to the film, as it was never quite as popular as the later Lector films. However, those looking for a release that combines a sweet HD transfer with the supplements from the previous releases will have to wait. So, although this disc is certainly worth a rental (and even a purchase for serious fans), everyone should hold on to their previous DVDs for the extras.
Manhunter will be held until a hi-def release includes some of the previously available extras.
Review content copyright © 2011 Gordon Sullivan; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 120 Minutes
Release Year: 1986
MPAA Rating: Rated R