Before The Silence of the Lambs there was Manhunter.
Manhunter was Michael Mann’s masterful adaptation of Thomas Harris’s novel Red Dragon, staring William Petersen as the word weary psycho hunter Will Graham and Brian Cox as a brilliant, understated Hannibal Lecktor.
After The Silence of the Lambs however it seemed that attempts where made to erase all trace of Manhunter. Oscar acclaim for the film and its rave reviews convinced Dino De Laurentiis there was a rich future for making more adaptations of Harris’s novels that audiences would gobble down with some fava beans and a nice chianti. Soon, Hopkins’ hammy performance as Hannibal the Cannibal had all but wiped Cox’s inspired interpretation off the movie map.
When the sequel to The Silence of the Lambs, Ridley Scott’s Hannibal, came out in 2001 audiences flocked to see it and it seemed only a matter of time until De Laurentiis and the studios would want more. And like a serial killer unable and unwilling to let his bloody rampage end, they went back to Red Dragon and remade it in their image, wheeling out Hopkins once again and trying to desperately delete Manhunter from our memories.
Manhunter lives on irrespective as not only a brilliant adaptation of Harris’ book but as an excellent horror thriller, packed tight with tension and excellent performances which delve uncomfortably into the psychology behind a killer – the primal urges and twisted desires that drive them and the devastation they wreak on the world around them.
After retiring from his role profiling and hunting serial killers Will Graham is persuaded to take one more case, after his colleague convinces him that he is the only man with the ability to get inside the mind of the latest murderer. The man in question is on a seemingly unstoppable killing spree and Graham must stop him before he kills again.
Dubbed the ‘Tooth Fairy’ by the police investigating him, the vicious and brutal psychopath has already claimed the lives of one family and will kill again if Graham cannot work out who he is and what is pushing him to cause such pain.
Desperate for help Graham turns to an old foe, Dr. Hannibal Lecktor, a murdering cannibal imprisoned for his crimes. Asking the twisted genius for advice he subsequently puts himself at the mercy of the man he helped put away.
As Graham is plunged back into the mindset of a maniac, Lecktor becomes more involved and the Tooth Fairy creeps ever closer to his next victims. With the countdown to the next killing ever closer to concluding, can Graham stop a seemingly unstoppable killer? And if so will the price of catching this psychopath be his own sanity in the same way it was with Lecktor?
Michael Mann’s vision of Harris’s warped world where characters are divided into only two categories – killers and victims is just that – Mann’s vision. And that means a stylish and visually stunning movie, now looking even better on Blu-Ray, packed full of Mann’s trademarked 80’s music, colours and clothing as everything he makes.
What elevates the movie beyond the visual is the story and script, also adapted by Mann which are brilliantly plotted and paced, following the investigation thoroughly while looking into the lives of the characters, revealing the multiple sides not only to Graham but to the disturbed Tooth Fairy played with freakish believability by Tom Noonan.
In a role that defined his future career confining him to CSI hell forever, William Petersen is pitch perfect as the psychopathic profiler. But it is Brian Cox who steals the show. In the same way that the film changes the name of the iconic killer Cox’s Dr. Lecktor is very different to Hopkins pantomime performance.
Horrifically normal Cox offers the viewer only fleeting glimpses of the true madness behind the character, convincing us his Hannibal is as capable of penning a paper on clinical psychology as he is slicing up a unfortunate innocent and eating them alive.
There is no denying The Silence of the Lambs is an excellent film, however there is a lot of evidence that the many sequels including the awful Hannibal Rising are nowhere near up to the same standard.
Manhunter stands alone in many ways, proud to be apart from the Hollywood series, created to cash in on Sir Anthony Hopkins Hannibal and his unlikely popularity.
It also proves that film adaptations can be both faithful to the original source while still giving the audience something new especially when handled by a visionary director such as Mann.