Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Hannibal Week: Manhunter

As I'm all caught up on Hannibal's weekly adventures on television, it was time for a trip back to his cinematic voyages, starting with 1986's Manhunter.  Based on Thomas Harris' novel Red Dragon, the title change came about so audiences wouldn't think it was a karate movie.  Written and directed by Michael Mann, who by this point was known for his work on hit television series Miami Vice and features Thief and The KeepManhunter is the story of Will Graham (William Petersen), a former F.B.I. specialist who had tracked and caught two notorious serial killers and is brought back in when a new menace who seemingly kills at random stumps authorities.  His former boss, Jack Crawford (Dennis Farina), intends to keep Graham as far away from the ugliness as possible but with time running out, Graham must recover the mindset and find the killer dubbed "The Tooth Fairy" (Tom Noonan).  To help Graham find the scent of his past, he visits Dr. Hannibal Lecktor (Brian Cox), an intelligent former psychiatrist who killed at least 9 people and scarred Graham for life mentally and physically when found out and taken down.  With Lecktor's insight, Graham tracks down the killer before he can plot his next series of murders. 

To start, I love this movie.  Michael Mann is one of my favorite directors and this 80's masterpiece is a prime example of why.  It's very of it's time with the style, fashion, music and attitude which may seem dated to others but makes it all the more memorable for me since I love the 80's.  Like all of his pictures, Mann had his cast do heavy research for the film with Petersen working with real F.B.I. profilers but eventually being told to back off so he wouldn't become desensitized to it.  If you've watched the series, you see that Graham and Hannibal start off as professional associates, maybe even friends, before Hannibal starts pushing Graham to the edge and frames him for several murders.  I'm not sure how the book plays things out but I will soon find out as I started reading Harris' novel just today. 

In the film, there is no mention of Graham and Lecktor having any real prior relationship other than the fact Graham caught him and had to quit after the mental toll of being in the mindset of a serial killer.  Also missing but very prevalent in future Hannibal adaptions is the killers penchant for eating his victims.  I don't think there's one allusion to Hannibal being a cannibal.  Instead, Lecktor pushes Graham, citing the two are the same and if he wants to recover the scent he only need to smell himself.  It's clear that Graham has trouble balancing his work for the law when his mind works the same as the killer behind bars.  Unlike The Silence of the Lambs or Hannibal the series, Manhunter is all about Will Graham.  In fact, Lecktor only has a few scenes in the film and interacts face to face with Graham just once early on.  Brian Cox's performance is solid as he is charming, analytical, intelligent and manipulative all at the same time.  Hannibal seems a tad obsessed with Will Graham since after all, Graham was the one who brought him in.  While he helps Will work the case, he also endangers Graham's family when he provides the FBI agent's home address to The Tooth Fairy.  Like the best kind of villain, Lecktor has no use for physical threats as he's behind bars for the duration of the film.  Instead, all of his power comes from perceived threats and his calculating intelligence.  Both of their conversations in the film revolve around the fact that the two are nearly the same mentally and with the right push, Graham would be the same as Lecktor.

As Graham, William Petersen is the fucking man.  While Hugh Dancy portrays Graham on the show as more of an unstable academic type who gets in too deep, Petersen plays the part like a volcano ready to erupt.  Fully aware of what he's capable of and maybe afraid of it, Petersen's Graham is all quiet intensity with moments of explosion like when he grabs tabloid reporter Freddy Lounds, flips him through the air and down onto the hood of a car.  Or his outburst in an argument with boss Crawford about how far they're going to push catching The Tooth Fairy.  Both Petersen and Farina have a great knack for basically saying "go fuck yourself" with their eyes and silence.  Then there's the scene where he's talking to himself in the reflection of a window with rain pouring down outside.  Or, in maybe the film's greatest scene, when they find The Tooth Fairy's home, Graham eschews waiting for back up, charges the house and jumps through a frigging window.  Mann stages all of the procedural and action bits with facts, force and energy.  Vibrant colors help add to the visual stimulus of the picture as well as help convey it's theme of duality.  Throw in lots of wide shots of Graham brooding, an awesomely ominous 80's synth score, blaring 80's tracks, tons of pastel shirts, lots of square ties and you've got yourself an engaging, stylistic and influential time capsule for the ages.

Upon release, Manhunter was met with mixed reviews and meager box office, taking in just $8.6 million on a reported $15 million budget.  The film has lived on though through it's connection to the hit adaptation of The Silence of the Lambs, the sequel Hannibal, a young Hannibal film and now the television series.  Mann would go on to direct critical and box office hits like The Last of the Mohicans and Heat while solidifying himself as one of America's greatest directors.  Petersen preceded Manhunter with another 80's classic, To Live in Die in L.A. for The Exorcist director William Friedkin as a role model badass, hot dog Secret Service agent.  It too would be met with indifference but go on to become a cult hit and Petersen would then make a huge splash on CBS' series C.S.I.

The following video has been edited to remove a use of a critically placed curse word:

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