Michael Mann’s ‘Manhunter’ (1986)

❉ This emotive ’80s thriller is every bit as good as its reputation.

These days, Hannibal Lecter is a cliché. Audiences wait for the eloquent Hopkins to feast himself on his human carcass, suffering and lexis. He throws in puns, word salads and salacious zingers to convince his conquest that he’s eligible. We wait for the plates, garnishes and relishes of chewed ears, eaten by the unknowing guests. We laugh with the knowing cannibal, understanding that those eating the dinner will be his next dish. Cue some deliciously dark reference to chianti and you have a killer script. Again.

How very differently he appears in Michael Mann’s magnaminous Manhunter, the prisoner of his shocking crimes. Scottish actor Brian Cox appears in only three scenes, yet his icy cold manners are every bit as terrifying as Francis Dollarhyde’s (Tom Noonan). Release this Lecter (or Lektor, as he is bizarrely credited) and a meat laden dinner is the least of William Graham’s (William Petersen) worries. “You came in here to look at me, to get the old scent back” he jeers, a whitened cell the only thing that distances him from wringing Graham’s neck.

Graham, worried for his wife’s sanity, can only probe so much before he too turns into the very thing he’s always haunted. Running from the clutches of the incarcerated monster, Graham’s more pertinent monsters stare him vacantly in his face.”Just you and me now sport” he snarls at a rain pattered window. There, staring at a mirror, he sees himself nakedly through the serial killers he serially dispenses.

Manhunter is every bit as good as its reputation. Taken outside of the more mainstream Hannibal series, Manhunter feels like the missing piece that connects the two Blade Runner films. The loudest moments are those unspoken. Graham, tortured by the impossibility of his assignment, turns his back to the psychotropic blue seas that front his house. His nemesis, Dollarhyde, tortures himself in a sequined blue bedroom from which he gives his body to Reba McClane (Joan Allen). Director Michael Mann connects these two contrasting figures by their attachment to their women. Heat, his 1995 masterpiece, is widely regarded as Mann’s most romantic work: yet the touches that brought cop and criminal together are felt in this emotive eighties thriller.

Fittingly, Ridley Scott directed the second most impressive Hannibal picture. Together, Mann and Scott embroider their pictures with detail, density and dyed colour. Characters walk into their stories, both the puppets of their masters, martyrs and directors. If Mann borrowed from Scott’s 1982 sci-fi painting, Scott returned the favour by curating an avant garde work masquerading as a The Silence of The Lambs sequel. Space covers Mann’s work,the world as encompassing and as cruel as the psychopaths he wishes to handcuff.

Behind the participants, a probing keyboard soundtrack is heard. Like the characters, the music shows ambience, claustrophobia and pictorial violence within the soundscapes. Sepia-tinted, the soundtrack matches Hannibal’s decor. Much like the hunter it illustrates, the music is at its scariest when its at its most caged.

❉ ‘Manhunter’ (1986) Cast: William Petersen, Kim Greist, Joan Allen, Brian Cox, Dennis Farina, Stephen Lang, Tom Noonan, David Seaman, Benjamin Hendrickson, Michael Talbott, Dan Butler, Michele Shay, Robin Moseley, Paul Perri, Patricia Charbonneau. Director: Michael Mann. Run time: 117 mins.

  A regular contributor to We Are Cult, Eoghan Lyng’s writing has also appeared in New Sounds, Record Collector, CultureSonar, Punk Noir Magazine, DMovies, Phacemag and other titles. Follow him on TwitterVisit his homepage.


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