Film Review: Manhunter (1986)

Also known as: Red Dragon (original script title), Red Dragon: The Curse of Hannibal Lecter (US TV title), Manhunter: The Pursuit of Hannibal Lecter (US video box title)
Release Date: August 15th, 1986
Directed by: Michael Mann
Written by: Michael Mann
Based on: Red Dragon by Thomas Harris
Music by: Michael Rubini, The Reds
Cast: William Petersen, Kim Greist, Joan Allen, Brian Cox, Dennis Farina, Stephen Lang, Tom Noonan, Michael Talbott, Frankie Faison, Chris Elliott, Marshall Bell

Red Dragon Productions S.A., De Laurentiis Entertainment Group, 120 Minutes, 124 Minutes (Director’s Cut), 85 Minutes (video edit)

Review:

“And if one does what God does enough times, one will become as God is.” – Hannibal Lecktor

Many people just dismiss Manhunter as the earlier version of Red Dragon that’s not as good because it doesn’t have Anthony Hopkins in it as Hannibal Lecter. That’s a pretty shitty assessment, though, as I feel like this is a better film and deserving of more notoriety than it’s gotten over the years.

Hannibal also isn’t in the story as much as one would expect but when he is, Brian Cox did a superb job with the character and gave the audience one of his best and certainly most chilling performances.

Beyond Cox, this movie has a pretty stacked cast between the underappreciated William Petersen, as well as Dennis Farina, a really young Stephen Lang and the enigmatic Tom Noonan. The film also has smaller roles for Frankie Faison, Marshall Bell, Chris Elliott and Miami Vice‘s Michael Talbott.

Speaking of Miami Vice, this was directed by that show’s creator, Michael Mann. I assume that this was shot between seasons of that show and this is also probably why a lot of it was shot in the southern half of Florida. Some of it was shot in Atlanta too.

With that, this has a very similar visual style and tone to Miami Vice when it was in its prime before jumping the shark in later seasons with weird storylines and a somewhat aimless creative direction.

Petersen is great as this film’s version of Will Graham. I liked him better than Ed Norton’s version of the character in Red Dragon and I say that as a big Norton fan.

It’s really Tom Noonan that steals the show, though, as the serial killer that Graham is trying to take down. Noonan does creepy so damn well and I feel like he’s been typecast in his career because of how terrifying he was in this movie. That’s also not a bad thing, as the guy is just so damn good at these sort of roles and he never disappoints. Frankly, he deserves more notoriety than he’s gotten too.

Manhunter is so much better than most people probably realize. I get that everyone loves Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter but that also doesn’t mean that the film that came before his debut should be dismissed and forgotten, as some B-movie, bad version of the Red Dragon story.

As I’ve said, I prefer this to the 2003 Red Dragon movie. It’s moody, stylish and wasn’t made just to capitalize off of Hannibal Lecter’s popularity in pop culture.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: the other Hannibal Lecter films, as well as Michael Mann’s hit ’80s crime show, Miami Vice.