Manhunter ★★★★½

Gorgeous and achingly dorky. When you take the path of unabashed humorlessness, you run that risk. Mann usually toes the line with dorkiness pretty expertly, but here might be the one spot in his oeuvre where he crosses it. The most egregious moment is probably William Peterson doing emo soliloquies while staring out a rain-drizzled window, his Wolverine haircut half-reflected in the darkness…

But even when he’s pulling a Joey Tribbiani, Peterson fully commits, diving into the drama face-first and never blinking. Occasionally his self-talk gets a bit eye-rolling, but he really sells the sweaty psychosis that Will Graham puts himself through. This isn’t just the romantically damaged detective. Peterson legitimately feels on edge.

And the whole tone of the movie is so off-kilter. It feels like a path not taken for Mann — choreographed staging and surreal visuals creating a subjective, hallucinatory mood somewhat at odds with the procedural realism. Mann would more seamlessly fuse mood and realism in later movies, but his concoction here remains enticingly strange. It’s such an unconventional approach to what could be a serial killer potboiler that you have to marvel at it, enraptured, even if not engaged. It’s not the genius piece of entertainment that the next Hannibal Lector movie would be, but it’s a captivating beast.

Speaking of captivating beasts: Good lord the scene where Joan Allen runs her hand across the sleeping tiger… Lifts up its jowls and it’s got teeth the size of her forearm… Unbearably tense. They are putting way more faith in animal tranquilizers than I think I’d ever have. 

But for how assured some scenes are, there are strange bits that just feel like unforced errors. Twitchy jump cuts and scenes where the music just fades out, but the scene keeps going. Crucial lines will have the camera on the back of someone’s head. In a lot of ways, it feels like Mann is still figuring some things out.

One thing that’s fully formed though, is Mann’s suspect soundtrack selection. Feels like he’s still chasing the dragon of “In the Air Tonight” from the Miami Vice pilot. Some of the music is perfect. Some of it is very clearly the early work of a man who will one day score multiple scenes in multiple movies with Audioslave.

But if Mann is unsteady on his feet, he manages to transfer that to the tone of the movie. It’s stressed and it’s sweaty and it’s talking to itself. It’s permeated by unease.

Aaannndddd I can’t really think of a way to end this review, so I’m just gonna fire up the Iron Butterfly and launch myself through this plate glass window….. HRRRREAAARRGHGHJJ KSSHSH KSSSHHSH!!! GUNSHOT GUNSHOT GUNSHOT!!

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