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Manhunter (1986)

As someone who is very vocal about my love for all things Thomas Harris and his Hannibal Lecter universe, be that his own novels, movie adaptations and TV adaptations, it may comes as some surprise that I've never seen the original take on his first novel in the series, 'Red Dragon', renamed 'Manhunter' from 1986. Long before Antony Hopkins cemented his iconic status in an Oscar winning role as the infamous Hannibal Lecter in 1991's 'Silence of the Lambs', it was Scottish actor Brian Cox who played that role first. However, now living in the shadows of Hopkins' performance, is Cox's take on the character 5 years earlier one that should no longer be overlooked?


I think its important to start by saying that this is the most faithful version I have seen of any of Harris' work, with 'Manhunter' solely focusing on the trajectory of his first novel 'Red Dragon'. The screenplay translates word for word directly from the book, and as someone who believes that improvements can always be made to any beloved property in adaptations or even in the instance of remakes, it felt uniquely refreshing to see something translated to screen so faithfully from its novel source material.


Filmed in the 80's, 'Manhunter' has a beautiful neon drenched synth style to its score composed and produced by Philadelphia band The Reds and artist Michel Rubini. This tone is not only consistent with its score but is heavily influential in its stylised cinematography and direction. A darker version of 'Miami Vice' is the only way I feel like I can describe it (ironically, a movie Director Michael Mann would later go on to helm in 2006). As someone who has become so accustomed to the overall aesthetic this franchise has become in modern pop culture under the umbrella of Hopkins' portrayal, to see the events of this film play out in such a contrasting way was truly mesmerising to me. I think it's truly disappointing that this movie didn't receive the box office success it so rightly deserved in order to produce a direct sequel utilising the 'Silence of the Lambs' source material.


Director Michael Mann, who is best known for his stylised crime dramas, comes across as very comfortably behind the camera here. He makes great use of his location, framing shots so that the back drop in each scene feels just as vital as the events taking place there. Mann not only directed this movie but also adapted the screen play in order to bring this to fruition. It's not difficult to see throughout the course of this movies runtime that Mann is very passionate about the source material and takes extreme care to translate it so well to screen. I can only assume that this is as much a high profiled fan project as it is anything else and that the really shows here when watching.


As vital as Hannibal Lecter becomes to the overall narrative of Harris' work, it is the character of FBI profiler Will Graham that has always been the most intriguing to me. Portrayed in 'Manhunter' by actor William Petersen, I found his depiction of a man walking the lines between unstable and dedicated to his mission to be so compelling. Both portrayals of Dolarhyde by Tom Noonan and Hannibal Lecter by Brian Cox are vastly different to what I have come to expect from these characters, based on what is established in later reimaginings. And that's not to say either performance was bad, if anything they were both outstanding. Being the first cast of actors to portray these characters on screen, using only the novels source material as inspiration, I found that everyone involved each give a more authentic and faithful take take on the characters than I have yet come to witness.


Overall, I found 'Mindhunter' to be a genuinely outstanding movie. With mesmerising performances from its core cast, awe-inspiring direction and cinematography, and an outstandingly memorable score to accompany it. Being so faithful to the source material makes this movie a must watch to any fans of both Thomas Harris' writings or of any of the many iterations of the Hannibal Lecter character we have come to enjoy over the years. Going in completely blind to this movie, I'm now walking away ranking it the highest amongst all of the onscreen adaptations.


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