Before Anthony Hopkins chewed the scenery as Hannibal Lector, there was this Michael Mann adaptation of Robert Harris’s first novel featuring everyone’s favourite cannibalistic psychiatrist/psychiatric cannibal (in a minor role). Brian Cox gives a rather more laidback Hannibal (in this case named Lecktor), because on the psycho side, Manhunter is mostly the show of Tom Noonan as Francis Dollarhyde. Noonan goes for a performance that finds the wounded in the grotesque and the horrible, making Dollarhyde relatable as a terrible human being because we can still see his humanity in his monstrosity. In a way, Dollarhyde reflects William Petersen’s Will Graham who has wounded himself by having to become the grotesque and the horrible to understand it.
Plotwise, after about three million post Silence of the Lambs films,
Manhunter does look rather quotidian, with Graham basically having all
the problems all movie profilers have (whereas real life profilers, going by the
books they write when they retire, mostly seem to suffer from badly inflated
egos and a concept of their own importance you don’t need to be a cosmicist to
find ridiculous), Dollarhyde’s peculiar obsessions looking downright sensible
compared to the nonsense many of his later colleagues will get up to, and a lot
of dialogue sounding very much like the psycho procedural movie version of “yada
yada”. However, there’s not just Noonan’s strong performance to carry the
film but also Michael Mann’s peculiar sensibilities as a director. Never has the
plot been written that Mann will not turn strange through an emphasis on
atypical plot beats, and the staging of scenes in highly stylized and individual
In this case, Mann has decided to bury his characters in horrifying modernist
architecture and the colour white, suggesting that a lot of what’s wrong with
these people is caused by an overabundance of white light.