Luke Thorne’s review published on Letterboxd:
Michael Mann directs this mystery thriller in which a forensic investigator hunts down a brutal serial killer, but the case threatens his own sanity.
When Manhunter was first released, it didn’t do very well, opening to a mixed critical reception and bombing at the box office, grossing only 8.6 million dollars on a budget of 15 million.
Because of this, the film, which is adapted from the novel Red Dragon by Thomas Harris, which was published five years earlier, was completely overshadowed by Johnathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs, which is (as of 2018 at the time of writing) the last film to win the “Big Five” Academy Awards.
Due to the success of this film, Manhunter was re-assessed, and is now considered to be a cult film – for a good reason. This was a lot better than what I thought it was going to be like.
Manhunter is also notable for being the first screen appearance of Dr Hannibal Lecter (spelt Lecktor here), made famous of course by Anthony Hopkins in The Silence of the Lambs and its sequel Hannibal.
The story of Manhunter concerns FBI unlawful examiner Will Graham (William L. Petersen), who is having his early retirement cut short in order to help on a on-going murder case involving an assassin known as the "Tooth Fairy" (Tom Noonan).
Will recruits the support of confined serial killer – and cannibal – Dr. Hannibal Lecktor (Brian Cox), who is the cause Will chose to call it a day early. It isn’t long before Will and the FBI find themselves involved in a fatal cat-and-mouse game between the Tooth Fairy, Lecktor and an meddlesome journalist Freddy Lounds (Stephen Lang).
William L. Petersen gives a very good performance in his role as the investigator who finds himself drawn into a horrific murder case which needs to be solved and fast, while Brian Cox is decent as Hannibal, the serial killer in jail who helps Will aim to solve the mystery of what is going on.
Tom Noonan is fine as The Tooth Fairy, the evil murderer aiming to cause as much trouble as possible, while Stephen Lang gives a respectable performance as Freddy Lounds, the journalist who wants to grab every word if at all possible, much to the annoyance of Will.
Keep an eye out for Kim Griest and Joan Allen in their respective parts as Molly Graham and Reba McClane, the latter being one of the co-workers in a laboratory.
The direction from Mann is very good because he allows the facial expressions to be seen to a strong effect throughout, while also keeping a tense atmosphere happening as well and the script is written to a decent standard by the director as he makes the movie good to follow.
The technical aspects that stand out best are the camera and sound, because the camera makes good use of the locations and also captures the tense moments well, which get the edge-of-the-seat status; the sound is decent as you have to listen carefully.
Overall, Manhunter is one very decent adaptation of the novel Red Dragon, thanks to the decent direction, script, technical aspects, tense atmosphere and the very good and central performance from William L. Petersen, who does not disappoint.