A retired F.B.I. Agent with psychological gifts is assigned to help track down "The Tooth Fairy", a mysterious serial killer. Aiding him is imprisoned forensic psychiatrist Dr. Hannibal "The Cannibal" Lecter.
Will Graham is a former FBI agent who recently retired to Florida with his wife Molly and their young son. Graham was a 'profiler'; one who profiles criminal's behavior and tries to put his mind into the minds of criminals to examine their thoughts while visiting crime scenes. Will is called out of his self-imposed retirement at the request of his former boss Jack Crawford to help the FBI catch an elusive serial killer, known to the press as the 'Tooth Fairy', who randomly kills whole families in their houses during nights of the full moon and leaves bite marks on his victims. To try to search for clues to get into the mind of the killer, Will has occasional meetings with Dr. Hannibal Lecktor, a charismatic but very dangerous imprisoned serial killer that Will captured years earlier which nearly drove him insane from the horrific encounter that nearly cost Will's life. With some help and hindrance, Will races against the clock before the next full moon when the 'Tooth Fairy' will ...Written by
David Lynch was the first director attached to the movie, but he eventually left the project. During this time, screenwriter Walon Green wrote a draft of the script and it is unknown how much of his ideas were used in the final script. See more »
When the St. Louis police pull up Dollarhyde's drivers license, it says he lives in "Chester, MO 64101". 64101 is a Kansas City, Missouri zip code, and Kansas City is 250 miles from St. Louis. See more »
We should have talked at the boatyard. You don't wanna talk about it here.
I'm not fallin' all over myself to talk about much anywhere, Jack.
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Manhunter is the best 'serial killer' genre film I've seen to date. It covers the 'serial killer' phenomenon from all possible angles - from the killings themselves and the motives of the killer, to the manhunt and the effects it has on the agents tracking the killer. Each of these four angles could themselves be the sole premise for such a film and it's to Mann's credit that he not only manages to deal with each of these angles in a substantive manner but also skilfully weaves them together into a coherent story.
The film moves at a steady pace and, while always conveying the urgency of the characters' actions, it never feels rushed. The process of tracking the killer is shown to us in meticulous detail right down to the unspoken rivalry and/or contempt that the different branches of the law enforcement system have for each other. And it's this last point that touches on that which makes Manhunter so clever and in my opinion better than the book itself.
Everything important in Manhunter is subtly hinted at so it's left up to the audience to infer: Graham's ability to track serial killers (he's half-way there himself); relatedly, Graham's motives for choosing Lounds to lure the killer (whether he was aware of them or not); Dolarhyde's disgust/insecurity at his own physical appearance (and the root of his desire to kill). This is the true brilliance of Manhunter. Rather than force-feeding the audience, Mann recognises that the characters in this film are driven by their ability or inability to deal with their own psyches. The subject matter is therefore subjective and should never be clear-cut enough so that it can be explained in black and white.
For those who say that there was too much focus on Graham and that the book focused mainly on the tooth-fairy, I will remind you of the film's title and to recognise the differences between this title and the book's. Mann quite rightly went his own way with the film. I've always felt that there's very little artistic merit in reproducing a book in film form - that's one step up from listening to a book read out on a tape.
While on the subject of reproducing the book in film form, I'm unfortunately obliged to mention the more recent Red Dragon film. I noted that this far inferior film actually has a higher rating than Manhunter and it makes me laugh that a film so formulaic, coarse, and obvious (on all levels) should be held in higher esteem. But I suppose it stands to reason that if babies like drinking formula they want the same thing from their films.
Manhunter is not just a technical masterclass in direction and writing but also in acting. Each character is fully drawn out by the actors and they each relate to the different characters in consistently different ways. Peterson has never been better as the introspective lead investigator who innately empathises with these killers and so understands how their profound insecurities can lead to murder. The progression of his character throughout the film is believable and quite expertly conveys to us his desperate attempt to separate himself from 'his man'. Farina is, as always, brilliant and as much as I'm a fan of Scott Glenn, the former's Jack Crawford is the grittier and more hard-edged. With every glance and eye-movement, Farina brings to bear his first-hand knowledge of what it is to be a cop doing his job under time pressure.
Standing out from this excellent ensemble is of course Brian Cox as Lecktor. While there is some merit to Anthony Hopkin's unfortunately more renowned portrayal of the same character, his is undeniably a caricature of a serial killer and, therefore, not realistic at all. A serial killer must appear to be, by definition,a very normal person - that's how he manages to kill a 'series' of people as opposed to just one and then being caught! My problem with Hopkin's Lecktor is that he is quite clearly not fully there in the head and so even the rawest recruit from the FBI down to the Cub Scouts would be able to pick him out as suspect no. 1. Cox gives us something entirely different. His Lecktor is smart, charming, and beneath the surface empty, devoid of sentiment and compassion. Again, it's to Mann's, and the actor's credit that, by the time his three scenes are done with, we have an implicit feeling as to what may be driving this Lecktor as well as an uncomfortable liking for him.
Three stand-out sequences to look for: 1) the 'walk-through' of the tooth-fairy's letter through the forensic process. Not a quick, flashy cut in sight. Instead we have a patient almost soothing series of scenes that convey exactly what the different forensic specialists do better than any film before it or since (yes, they each have their own departments and there is not one indication that Jimmy Price and co. carry a gun, let alone go tracking down the killers themselves!). 2) Graham's visit with Lecktor. A dream-like sequence where the two play the best mental game of chess I can remember seeing in a film. 3) Dollarhyde encountering Reba. Michael Mann at his best shows us in three scenes how the fantasy-driven psychosis of a serial killer can be shattered to the point that the real person beneath is partially and briefly exposed.
File under 'Masterclass'.
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