Manhunter

Manhunter ★★★★★

I still maintain Red Dragon is a decent enough movie, especially for something that's slavishly beholden to the Hannibal Lecter "franchise" & Silence of the Lambs's visual style (which of course Brett Ratner doesn't have a good handle on) & even the source material (cf. the work done to flesh out Dolarhyde's world & make him more sympathetic). But from the minute this movie cuts from its unfortunately retro title card to that beautiful shot of William Petersen & Dennis Farina sitting on a log at the beach, I found myself wondering what I ever saw in that other film.

Mann's interest in Francis Dolarhyde -- a tragic figure in his own right -- is Will Graham's interest in Francis Dolarhyde: He sympathizes for the child this monster once was, but he has no sympathy for what that child has become. This is Will Graham's story, and Will Graham's struggle. It's a struggle between darkness and light, except Graham is the darkness and the light is threatening to smother him.

It's no coincidence that, in Manhunter's world, the primary color in both Jack Crawford's office and Hannibal Lectkor's cell is white. (See also: the crime scene, the light reflected in the victim's mirror-eyes, the halo Dolarhyde sees when Reba is "kissing" her co-worker outside her apartment.) In Graham's eyes, they're part of the same world, a world where he excels and a world he wants to desperately escape (cf. that shot of Graham -- shades of The Keep / Public Enemies / etc -- dwarfed by the exterior of Lecktor's prison after running from Lecktor's cell). When Graham joins the "Tooth Fairy" investigation, he becomes this coal-black pupil in that world's eye, seeing things that no one else wants to, or can, see.

Notice William Petersen's wardrobe: Bright pastel colors when he's with his family -- at least before & after the investigation -- and darkest dark when he's with the FBI. There's also Graham's final phone conversation with Lecktor; Brian Cox is lounging comfortably in his whiter-than-white cell (and in the center of the frame), while Petersen -- in all black, cowering in the lower right corner of the shot -- is framed against the darkness of the city outside his hotel window.

There might be other instances of Mann framing Petersen against the city, but the one other shot that comes to mind is at the end of Graham's "eureka" moment. He's talking to himself while watching the two TV monitors with the footage of the victims. Mann slowly brings the music up as Graham puts the pieces together. We watch awe and concern dance over Jack Crawford's face as he watches Graham work.

Then, when Graham realizes how Dolarhyde learned about his victims, and Crawford starts working the phones to confirm Graham's hunch, Graham walks over to the window. There's a skyscraper in the distance, its top floors ablaze in light, the structure towering over Graham as he puts his hand on the white wall of Crawford's office and looks down at the city as his suspicions are affirmed. With the music swelling and the mystery being "solved," it should be a triumphant moment. But Mann knows better.

In a way, that shot of Graham looking down at the city mirrors a shot from Graham's first visit with Lecktor -- from the exterior of Lecktor's cell, we see half of Graham's face through the cell door window as Lecktor picks at Will's scabs, telling Graham how similar they are, how much of a prisoner Graham truly is. & when Mann drops the music out of that "triumphant" moment, it hammers that point home: Graham's still trapped.

Throughout the movie, he's hemmed in by glass or bars or all sorts of obstructions, both visually & spiritually. It's only fitting that Graham's true freedom comes after he crashes through the window of Dolarhyde's house, & that he has to suffer actual wounds in order to finally achieve it. It makes that final shot of Graham at the beach reunited with his family -- fittingly, as the "A MICHAEL MANN FILM" text appears -- so much sweeter.

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