Manhunter

Manhunter ★★★★★

MANHUNTER is not Michael Mann's best film, but that does not preclude it from being one of the best American genre films of all time. Its mixture of exacting, over-researched realism and pure, unabashed style may have nominally inspired an entire generation of TV shows that have made bank for CBS, but nothing in CSI's invasive forensic illustrations (copped from THREE KINGS more than this) produces the same effect of total identification with its ostensibly chilly, distant characters.

Mann explores the contours around Petersen's sensitive performance, for example, to heighten the sense of figuring things out along with Will. The scene in which Graham puts everything together is maybe the best of its kind, the mix of intense but still underplayed acting, precise cutting, and intimate camera positioning lets you feel like you're discovering the answer too, even though we've already been shown Dolarhyde and his surroundings. And the In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida scene, Christ. I could watch that sequence on a loop.

There is also a moment of truly beautiful grace that I don't think gets remarked upon enough. The scene of Will talking to his son in a cereal isle, speaking frankly about his ordeal in capturing Lecter but also omitting the worst bits, is an incredible moment, perhaps a visualization of how broken Will is from his experiences, but also the care and respect he shows for his son in speaking honestly. It's tender precisely because it demonstrates how Will cannot fully shield his boy from the horrors he brought home with him. Petersen had the good fortune to play this kind of part before they all started being written as overtly autistic, and the exchange Will has with his son is a brief glimpse of, not normalcy, but whatever equilibrium Will can carve out for himself.