Thursday, October 17, 2013
(August 1986, U.S.)
One night in August 1986, after having given my movie time and efforts to mega-blockbusters like ALIENS, THE FLY and TOP GUN, I decided to go see a movie that I knew absolutely nothing about with no prior knowledge of story, concept or stars. The result was Michael Mann's MANHUNTER, and in a way, my perception of big screen crime thrillers hasn't been the same since. During that summer, I was also in the process of attempting to write my first novel, also a crime thriller, and had reached a point where writer's block was getting the better of me. Then I went to see MANHUNTER and something inside of me clicked and within a couple of months, I'd finished the first draft of what would, indeed, go on to become my first novel. Many years later when I reached full adulthood (whatever the hell THAT is!), I realized that what I'd written was a completely amateurish (not that I consider myself a pro now!) piece of shit! No, really - this thing I wrote during my college youth is so bad that I refuse to even show it to my wife! In fact, the only evidence left that the thing was ever written is the one original hard copy that I've never been quite able to bring myself to throw away!
(but I've digressed long enough)
I can't help but wonder if the last twenty years of moviegoers raised on the over-exploitations of Dr. Hannibal Lecter (spelled LECKTOR in this film - don't ask me why) would have even heard of MANHUNTER otherwise? Yes, it's the first thriller (and the best) written by author Thomas Harris' novel RED DRAGON to feature the notorious flesh-eating psychiatrist, but the character in this story is somewhat minor. This film focuses almost entirely on FBI criminal profiler Will Graham who's brought out of retirement to help catch a serial murderer who slaughters entire families in their homes. Graham explores the evidence by also attempting to get deep into the mind of the killer and his potential motives and fantasies. As we follow along, we also listen to the profiling process as Graham speaks his thoughts and words into a microcassette recorder and expresses himself quite vocally as he watches video tapes of the victims before their unfortunate demise. Graham is an emotional man who not only feels for the victims he's never known, but is often overcome with anger and rage when realizing just how and why the killer operates the way he does. A contributing factor to Graham's psyche is the fact that he'd allowed the twisted thoughts of Hannibal Lecktor to remain in his head, even after being responsible for finally capturing the mad doctor.
As Graham continues to desperately try and figure out a connection between the murdered families, he soon realizes that he killer must have somehow seen their home movies before targeting them. This is a point that's actually quite frightening to consider because it turns out the killer Francis Dollarhyde (played by Tom Noonan) is an employee at a photo processing lab. Dollarhyde has been casing the victims' homes through home movies, enabling him to prepare for the break-ins in extreme detail. Most viewers may be willing to simply dismiss this fact as trivial or no more than an interesting twist in the process to catch a killer. But consider for a moment the idea that there are total strangers out there that we willingly invite into our private world every time we put in that order for hard copy photographs. Certain film makers in Hollywood recognized this chilling concept and gave us the Robin Williams film ONE HOUR PHOTO (2002), but that's a blog for another time.
Now let's talk about the infamous characgter of Dr. Hannibal Lecter for a moment. Yes, no one can deny that Anthony Hopkins is responsible for making the character legendary. But was he necessarily better at it? I would challenge fans of Hopkins to consider the very subtle intensity that Brian Cox originally brought to the role. Does a gifted actor necessarily portray an insane man by such obvious gestures as widening his eyes, licking his lips and speaking of fava beans and a fine chianti? Cox has a deeper voice and never smiles once in the role. He judges Will Graham with very harsh eyes and dead-on honesty with an ability to get deep inside Graham's head without the overkill of being too devilishly nasty, as I felt Hopkins did. Being purely evil does not necessarily constitute acting like a complete loon. Sometimes the art of intense silence and a brooding facial expression can perfectly personify evil. So, there it is, people - it may be an unpopular opinion, but I've always preferred Brian Cox over Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter! And as Will Graham, William Peterson is absolutely perfect in the role! It's no wonder that he was chosen for his role on CSI. It's also no wonder that MANHUNTER can claim responsibility for inspiring many of the criminal and forensic science investigative TV shows that are all over the air today.
MANHUNTER is one of the most unique crime thrillers I've ever seen, for more reasons than just a chilling story and very fine acting. In a way, it's quite the MTV thriller of the 1980s due to a soundtrack that explicitly dominates the film. This is almost easy to appreciate considering that Michael Mann also created TV's MIAMI VICE. Before this film, I never would have imagined Iron Butterfly's "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" could be used so effectively during the climactic moment when a serial killer is finally brought down. Visually, the film is also driven by strong color cues and the use of tints. Different tints are used to evoke different moods for the audience. A "romantic blue" is used during the intimate and tender scenes of Will Graham in bed with his wife, while a rather "subversive green" brings out a moment of Francis Dollarhyde's evil intents. It may be safe to suggest that the elements of music and color, indeed, attempt to depict MANHUNTER as art. It's something to consider, anyway.
Now let me get back to the first time I saw this film on screen back in 1986. I loved it immediately, but then again, I've often had an immediate appreciation for films that haven't been well received at the time of their theatrical release and then go on to be so-called cult classics (ORCA: THE KILLER WHALE, BLADE RUNNER and DUNE, just to name some examples. When I returned to college less than a month after seeing this film, I learned that a very good friend of mine at the time whom I shall call INGRID (because that's really her name) had also seen it, too, over the summer. In fact, she was probably the only other person I knew in my life who had seen MANHUNTER (let's face it - this was not a well known film before SILENCE OF THE LAMBS!). Anyway, she was the only person I could have any deep discussions about this film with. When it was released on VHS for the first time, I think we even watched it together. Oh yeah, did I mention that I had the most enormous crush on this girl, too?? Well, all these years later, that's neither here nor there. In fact, other than a brief look at her Facebook profile a few years ago, I have no idea what's become of this woman (nor do I really give a shit!). So it's to Ingrid that I dedicate this post. Thanks for the memories of past friendship, Ingrid! Thanks for that night we made out when you came back to the dorm late at night drunk off your ass! Thanks for being the only person I could discuss and appreciate MANHUNTER with before Anthony Hopkins brought Thomas Harris' stories into a whole new world. And thanks for being nice enough (or stupid enough) to tell me that you actually liked that piece of shit novel I was writing during those college years! Thanks, Ingrid!
Oh, and just a final quick word about the 2002 remake known as RED DRAGON. Most audiences and critics preferred it over it's predecessor, but what the fuck do they know?? For me, it was like watching an inferior school play of something that was considerably superior sixteen years prior. Stop fixing what ain't broke, Hollywood!!!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Will Graham: "This started from an abused kid, a battered infant. My heart bleeds for him, as a child. Someone took a kid and manufactured a monster. At the same time, as an adult, he's irredeemable. He butchers whole families to pursue trivial fantasies. As an adult, someone should blow the sick fuck out of his socks!"