Manhunter

Manhunter

I enjoyed this more simply than I have enjoyed any other Mann movie, which makes it my favorite. Maybe that’s because it’s so much less ambitious in scale and scope than his post-1990 stuff (COLLATERAL excepted) and even than the highly allegorical THIEF. It’s pretty much, like COLLATERAL, a straightforward if wonderfully stylized thriller, despite its Miltonic-Satanic “Old Enemy” type antagonist (COLLATERAL, by the by, has this too in Cruise’s character). It transcends the hackneyed “cop and criminal are two sides of the same coin” shtick by leaning into it so hard it comes out the other side, like an FBI manhunter needlessly plowing through a floor-to-ceiling window. 

Speaking of which, Mann does stretch a bit at times for the mythic image. But plenty of the imagery here—Joan Allen’s hand in the fur of a sedated tiger, a flaming corpse strapped to a wheelchair zooming down the ramp of a parking garage—has the solidity and staying power of authentic weirdness. And the way Mann shoots these images, as Dara K. Marzipan points out, is absorbingly off-kilter, plugging us in to the consciousness of a killer who experiences vision with a harrowing intensity. One peculiarity of this movie is that such stylistic Becoming necessarily also puts us inside the consciousness of Graham, whose skill as an empath creates a kind of double subjective, a superimposition that fuses two points of view: that cold open from the Tooth Fairy’s perspective might as well be one of Graham’s mental reconstructions, re-enactments. The visual environment Mann creates—Graham just swimming in the killer’s own element—is far more convincing, as a demonstration of what it is Graham does and how it affects him, than the easy-cheesy device of his talking to himself (sorry, I mean talking to “sport”). And, too, it suggests a strong analogy between the work of the manhunter and the work of the narrative artist. Each is tasked with entering utterly into the mind of another human being; each returns from this expedition enlightened but, we can assume, also permanently wounded. 

The dialogue in this is much less labored than in Mann’s later stuff, although it does make me wonder in which year of junior high he first wrote down the line “Time is luck.” Also, there have been plenty of great artists (e.g., Yeats) who’ve had no feel at all for music. But has any ever committed so many actual outrages against it?

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