Manhunter

Manhunter ★★★★

"And if one does what God does enough times, one will become as God is."

Crime dramas are kind of my thing and I love when those movies become thinking man's puzzles. Psychological thrillers are fun for me because I like the cat-and-mouse game, the chase between the law and the criminal. I'm a sucker for a good police procedural, watching the grunt work of investigations and the mental game at play in reconstructing a crime scene and then going out and catching the killer.

Michael Mann's Manhunter is an interesting exercise is all of the elements that make up a good psychological crime thriller. It's got compelling characters, a ghastly, mysterious villain, is paced briskly, contains just enough action and a whole lot of tension throughout. Mann's bread and butter is the crime drama and this just might be his best, certainly a gem of his early career.

What struck me most about Manhunter is how meticulously shot it is. Mann does a great job with close-ups and wider shots in this that serve to heighten the tension and accentuate things like fear, nervousness and panic. Some of the more tension-packed scenes amazed me with his shot selection. In one scene, the killer is forcing his latest victim to watch a slideshow of photos of a family he has recently murdered. At first, the camera is poised on simple everyday shots of them. The killer ominously asks repeatedly, "Do you see?" When the photos transition to the heinous acts he has committed, the camera shifts focus to the victim himself and his reactions show us how ghastly the photos are. It seems kind of obvious, but it's a subtly brilliant move by Mann and further boosts the creepiness and disturbing nature of this film.

I came to this movie after having seen the Anthony Hopkins-helmed Hannibal Lecter movies as well as seeing the first two seasons of NBC's unsettling show Hannibal (I still have to catch up on season 3), so I was familiar with the characters involved. I remember liking Brett Ratner's 2002 film Red Dragon, which is a remake of Manhunter, but it didn't leave that much of an impact on me. Mann's film is far superior in many ways even with some elements standing as somewhat dated by today's standards.

I thought Brian Cox's performance as Lecter (or "Lecktor" as it is in this film) in this one was just OK but I have to admit that most of that feeling has to do with Hopkins absolutely blowing this role out of the water in The Silence of The Lambs, which is one of the greatest acting performances in movie history, in my opinion. So I was a little bit biased in favoring Hopkins before seeing this one and Cox unfairly gets very little screentime in this film to really flesh out the character.

I enjoyed William Petersen's performance as Will Graham and preferred his over Hugh Dancy's one in the Hannibal TV show. Petersen's is more restrained and mysterious whereas Dancy's is, I feel, a little too idiosyncratic at times. Petersen really carries the early parts of this movie well with a cool, calculated delivery that suggests a brilliant mind is at work here. His banter with Dennis Farina's Jack Crawford as they pick apart elements of the case made for some tense scenes.

The film really never lets you catch your breath. Mann, who also penned the screenplay, writes a taut script and, combined with his tight direction and shot selection, fashions a top-notch crime thriller. You can really tell that this movie has a direct influence on the CSI TV franchise and other police procedurals. It sets things up right away, gives you a little character stuff, a little action here and there, the case gets closer and closer to the killer, the tension is constantly being ramped up and ends with a bang.

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