Tuesday, February 14, 2017

In short: Manhunter (1986)

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 manners.

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.

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