Manhunter

Manhunter

To read Brett Ratner claiming Michael Mann's Manhunter had no influence on his Red Dragon is the greatest non-admission of plagiarism since Vanilla Ice tried to explain how "Ice Ice Baby" was different from "Under Pressure".

Ratner aside, from a directorial standpoint this is a superior film. Its bright, neon-lurid imagery and experimental shot construction give it a nightmarish quality that pairs well with the headspace of a serial killer for whom sight is a sublime property and the route to his violence. It's this headspace that investigator Will Graham (William Petersen) struggles to penetrate, using his dubious gift of deep empathy, along with procedural police-work, to chase the mysterious "Red Dragon" before he strikes again.

The way Mann uses intense color and visuals works enormously well here, although those sequences paired with blaring 80's music have not aged well. Nicolas Winding-Refn's Drive is deeply indebted to Mann, this film in particular, and watching this left me wondering if in a couple of decades, Refn's film will also feel weirdly dated by its soundtrack. Mann's use of music has always been an interesting stylistic quirk but it's one that's constantly turned me off, even in more serious works like The Insider. I remember it being kind of a relief to watch Collateral, wherein he'd finally chilled the fuck out with the overall soundscape.

Thomas Harris' novels have attracted heavy-hitting talent when it comes to Hollywood versions, but the really interesting thing is how these stories of intelligent murderers and empathic investigators, of psychology and ultraviolence, have attracted directors with some of the strongest visual sensibilities. Mann certainly set a high bar to follow, and luckily nobody's tried to, not even Ratner. The Hannibal story is one that each director leaves their own particular mark on.

I suspect this received many of the same 'style over substance' criticisms that Drive did. But I feel that Mann is actually best on this plane, when style is the substance of the work. When he starts trying to muck around outside that pond, his films turn into bloated misfires. Other adaptations from this series have plumbed the psychological depths of the characters much better, but Mann isn't even trying to do that. He's trying to dream you a beautiful little nightmare. I think he succeeded.

Dara K. liked these reviews