Manhunter (1986)

Director: Michael Mann
Starring: William Petersen, Brian Cox, Tom Noonan
Runtime: 119 Mins
Rating: * * * * *

Manhunter is a real rough diamond of a film, one which feels like the decade it was produced in, with a cheesy soundtrack and some not-so-famous actors; but it’s also a real masterpiece of suspense and psychological horror. It may also surprise some readers to learn that Manhunter is the first Hannibal Lecter film, made five years before The Silence of the Lambs. It lives on with a cult following, thanks to Brian Cox’s understated, brilliant Lecter.

The film focuses on the mental turmoil facing former FBI agent Will Graham as he returns to his job from early retirement to help authorities catch a brutal serial killer, The Tooth Fairy/Great Red Dragon, before he kills again. However, in order to regain his edge in profiling murderers, Graham has to confront and seek the assistance of the very man he captured (and who provoked his retirement), Hannibal Lecter. The film showcases the exploits of its other serial killer as he chooses his next victim, while an unexpected romance throws him into a struggle between his passionate and murderous impulses.

Unlike The Silence of the Lambs, where a supernatural, all-knowing Lecter is on equal footing with Clarice Starling, Manhunter focuses on the fragile minds of the pursued and the pursuer, albeit with another cruel psychopath thrown in to manipulate them for his own enjoyment. Brian Cox’s Lecter is a risky, sinister chess player with pawns at his mercy as he shoves the pieces into play from the confines of his cage. His calm, unassuming manner masks an unquenchable evil, rivalling Anthony Hopkins’ flamboyant, hammer horror Hannibal.

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