This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
esther’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
"How many of them made it?"
"Most of them. Most of them made it."
These are the final lines of the film, a question Molly Graham asks of her husband. They're standing on a beach at sunset, a fist-pumping 80s rock ballad on the soundtrack. This exchange fills a blank that would normally be used for an affirmation of love or a triumphant conclusory statement. This is Manhunter's version of a happy ending, one in which we breathe a sigh of relief that only a few people died. On its face, it seems shockingly cynical, but Mann genuinely means this to be an uplifting moment. It's as though the film sees it as distasteful to ignore all the violence we've just seen and go out on a heroic note.
And not just the victims of the serial killer. This film has sympathy for EVERYONE. Even the slimy reporter Freddy Lounds is twice in succession given the respect of a cut-away so as not to revel in his death. Only Lecktor is ever overtly framed as sinister, with the disorienting dutch angles in his first meeting with Will and Will's subsequent (literal) downward spiral.
And don't even get me started on those compositions. Good lord. There were some shots in this thing that were just unreal. Mann shoots most every dialogue scene in wide two-shots, as if he has a distaste for shot-reverse editing structure. (Lecktor's first scene uses that structure, perhaps another example of the film's negativity towards that character.) Now I get why Mann is considered such a master. This fucking movie, guys.