Noah Thompson’s review published on Letterboxd:
You've seen these films! Haven't you, my man?
Shortly before this rewatch of Manhunter, I wrapped up watching the NBC show Hannibal. Overall, I enjoyed it a lot. Mads Mikkelsen is now my new favorite Hannibal Lecter, which should surprise absolutely no one. My favorite aspects of the show were Lecter's relationship with Will Graham, and Will Graham in general. Hugh Dancy seemingly had a tight grip on what makes Graham an intriguing character beyond a conceptual standpoint. You need to have a certain mindset to be as good of a criminal profiler as Will is, and that kind of mindset wouldn't be healthy in the slightest. The aspect I was looking forward to the most of the show was its final arc, an adaptation of the Red Dragon novel like Manhunter and the self-titled film from the early 2000s.
Despite enjoying Hannibal as a whole, I have to say I think I found its version of Red Dragon to be the weakest. There were aspects about it I absolutely enjoyed, Richard Armitage as Dolarhyde being a prominent one. But there was something about the execution of his story and the relation between Graham and Dolarhyde wasn't as convincing. I think I also enjoyed how both Manhunter and Red Dragon refrain from going too crazy with the trippy visuals. As neat as some of the things are in the show, I think this is a story that benefits from being more nuanced than going all-out. So, overall, Hannibal I enjoyed as a whole, but the Red Dragon story arc was disappointing. A bit of a shame, but so be it.
All of that out of the way, Manhunter more than holds up on a second viewing. I think I'll refrain from boosting it up to a 9/10 for now, but that could very well change on a third viewing or even after reflecting on the film a little more later today. Even when watching an admittedly less than stellar DVD version of the film, it's ridiculous how good of a film Manhunter looks. I stand by my previous claim that this is one of the most well-shot films I've had the fortune of ever seeing. Have fun trying not to get some of these shots and lighting choices seared into your mind. I'll also say from the aesthetics standpoint, I enjoyed the musical choices more this time around. The "Strong As I Am" needle drop is without question still the top use of music in the film, yet everything else works either unconditionally or in a way that sort of dates the film but adds to the charm. Manhunter is a movie that's aesthetics belong to the 80s, but its craft in storytelling and beyond is eternal in quality.
Michael Mann is the perfect filmmaker to take on a story like this. He has a common respect for all kinds of humans, and takes the time to ensure every one of his characters gets the time they need to rise above paper dolls on the screen and become fleshed-out individuals. The mentality of Manhunter is best exemplified in an exchange between Will Graham and Jack Crawford about "The Tooth Fairy." When asked if he sympathizes with the killer by Jack, Will responds with "Absolutely. My heart bleeds for him, as a child. Someone took a kid and manufactured a monster. At the same time, as an adult, he's irredeemable. He butchers whole families to pursue trivial fantasies. As an adult, someone should blow the sick fuck out of his socks." Graham, and by association Mann, understands that evil isn't born, it's made. As someone whose entire career revolves around understanding, Will has empathy embedded in him. However, once said evil is brought into the world, Will also understands that it must be quelled no matter what. The near seamless blend of a challenging narrative and stunning visuals makes Manhunter one of the best crime thrillers you're bound to find out in the cinematic landscape, from the 1980s or any other decade.