Director – Michael Mann
Cast – William Petersen, Kim Greist, Joan Allen, Brian Cox, Dennis Farina, Tom Noonan, Stephen Lang, David Seaman
Release Year – 1986
Reviewed by John of the Dead
We all know that story wise, before “The Silence of the Lambs” there was “Red Dragon”. We all know the popular 2002 film “Red Dragon”, which starred Edward Norton and Anthony Hopkins. But did you know that the “Red Dragon” story had already been done on film, and BEFORE “The Silence of the Lambs?”. Yes, it is true. In 1986 director Michael Mann(“Collateral”, “Heat”) gave us “Manhunter”, the real prequel to “The Silence of the Lambs”.
“Manhunter” stars William Petersen(of “CSI: Las Vegas” fame) as Will Graham, the man who put away Dr. Hannibal Lecktor(actor Brian Cox)(yes, in this film it’s spelled Lektor, not Lecter) and retired soon after due to the mental issues he suffered capturing Lektor. A new killer deemed “The Tooth Fairy” has struck, and left authorities baffled over the crime scenes. He has no obvious motive, and his crimes are heinous. The FBI has no choice but to ask Will Graham for his assistance once again. Graham agrees to help, but only with profiling the killer. He enlists the help of Hannibal Lektor, thinking that his insane mindset will help him catch one who is equally insane. However as Graham gets closer to identifying the killer, he gets sucked into the killers game, which always ends with deadly results.
I really like the “Red Dragon” storyline, so I knew I would enjoy this film. I am also a fan of the very underrated actor Brian Cox, so that’s icing on the cake as well. The storyline is engaging and grasps the viewer with it’s development into one of the more awesome mystery/police work stories of the 80s. William Peterson does a fine job as Will Graham, and Brian Cox was great as Hannibal Lektor. You probably would like to know how he compares to Anthony Hopkins on that matter, and I will get to that later. Director Michael Mann is a man(haha) I respect. I have enjoyed his work throughout the years and his direction in this film is positive. The film tends to drag at times, mainly because we are left without much tension for great lengths in time. It seems this film was more of a dramatical effort compared to an action effort, so naturally dragging will take place.
Personally, I wish we would have had more scenes with Hannibal Lektor. Lektor is such an engaging character so naturally if we had more Lektor scenes then the film most likely would have paced better. The character Francis Dollarhyde(Tom Noonan) was an interesting watch as well. Tom Noonan did a great job at making the guy a pretty damn creepy dude, and I think it was actually a positive idea to not show him in the film until halfway through the piece.
Now, the comparisons to the more recent film “Red Dragon”. Brian Cox and Anthony Hopkins both portrayed Lector/Lektor very well, and each approached the character differently. Hopkins approached him as a very cunning, charming, and sophisticated man. Cox approached him as a more brash character, while still keeping him a very sophisticated and intellectual person. Cox’s Lektor was scarier on a physical aspect, and Hopkins’ Lecter was scarier on a psychological level. Who wins the battle? That is up to the viewer as I have friends of mine who prefer one to the other. I personally think Hopkins is the better choice for Hannibal. Why? Hopkins stole every scene he was in and his presence lingered throughout his film. Cox was great, and did steal from Petersen for the most part, but his presence was not as captivating as Hopkins’ was. William Petersen did a fine job as Will Graham, but I feel Edward Norton moved the audience more. I cared for his Will Graham more than I did for Petersen’s Will Graham. However I will give Peterson some cred as he was a much more fragile Will Graham, and went at Francis Dollarhyde with a much stronger vengeance than Norton’s Will Graham did. I’d say the Petersen vs. Norton battle is a tie. Now one big difference between the two films as the use of Francis Dollarhyde. In “Red Dragon” we get a lot of scenes with Francis and get to delve into who he is and his personality a lot more than we do with “Manhunter”. In “Manhunter” we don’t see him at all until the second half of the film, and when we do it’s 90 percent drama. Some may like it, but I think he was better used in “Red Dragon”, which is a big reason “Red Dragon” paced a lot better than “Manhunter”. We also get to see Francis’s freaky tattoos in “Red Dragon”, yet we are never shown them in “Manhunter”. Therefore Francis was a much more fear-inducing character in “Red Dragon” than in “Manhunter”. The direction in both films is great, but I will give the nod to Brett Ratner of “Red Dragon” simply because of his use of Francis compared to Mann’s non-use of Francis. As for the conclusions, “Red Dragon” absolutely wins this one. Both conclusions were fine, but the conclusion for “Red Dragon” was very tense and offered a great twist at the end that only intensified the final sequence. The conclusion for “Manhunter” was fulfilling, but paled in comparison to “Red Dragon”.
Overall, this is a good film that I recommend to those who would like to see the real prequel to “The Silence of the Lambs”. Watch this and make up your own mind about how it compares to “Red Dragon”.