Monday, May 9, 2011
Michael Mann's Manhunter is about as good as it could have been. The reason neither it nor Red Dragon aren't great isn't really because of their flaws, but because the story from the Thomas A. Harris novel just isn't very good. That being said, I really did love this movie because of the aura that Mann permeates throughout it. It's been noted that he hadn't quite fostered his visual methods. There can be a fine line between pretension and visual art, and Mann comes close to crossing it here. But it hardly matters because at least this movie has style. Obviously there's no Edward Norton and no Anthony Hopkins, but it still makes good use of what it can get. William Peterson is hardly an equivalent of Ed Norton, but he still masters the complex character of Will Graham and makes us take him seriously enough rather than resorting to typical 80's camp. Brian Cox is a good actor, but he never really sank into the role of Lector, mainly because he gets even less screen time than Hopkins got in Red Dragon. What makes this such a haunting film is not just that the killer is part of society, but that Graham doesn't really want the job. Yes, he's determined to solve the case, but that's part of his nature. When he has a job, he does it. But what he really wants is to be at his house on the beach with his wife and kid. He wants security, he wants sanity. There's something incredibly engrossing in the way he goes around the crime scenes speaking quietly and firmly through a tape recorder. We see a genius who doesn't want to be a genius, but has no choice. One major improvement in this version is the way in which Graham's back story is revealed. In Red Dragon it was just an opening sequence, an easy route that gets the facts down for the viewer right away. In Manhunter, Mann, as obsessed with the minds of his characters as he is with visual images, takes a more delicate approach. He tells us Graham's history rather than showing us through a series of scenes that work really well dramatically. The part in the grocery store between Graham and his son was particularly well done, both in the lines and how they were delivered. One more plus here is that the ending is more classical and straightforward than Red Dragon's foolish surprise finish. Manhunter is Michael Mann telling the world he means business, that he's not just a stylist but a director with a keen focus on the emotional and thematic elements of a narrative.