Brief Review: Manhunter (1986)

Fascinating characters abound in this stark, atmospheric interpretation of Thomas Harris’s Red Dragon.

Former FBI profiler Will Graham (William Petersen) is gifted in a way that allows him to think like a killer.  This disturbing ability has enabled him to catch a number of serial killers throughout his career, most notably a mentally scarring encounter with the infamous Dr. Hannibal Lecktor (Brian Cox).

A career spent thinking like sociopaths has left Graham psychologically traumatised.  But when a terrifying new serial killer emerges, Will is forced out of retirement and back into the darker corners of his own mind.

The interactions between Graham and Lecktor are captivating.  Although they only appear on-screen together for a few minutes, this particular scene forms the backbone of the whole film.

While not as flamboyant as Anthony Hopkins’s later take on the same character, Brian Cox gives Hannibal  an aggressively sinister air.  Even from the confines of his cell it feels as though he’s in complete control.  He’s a caged predator, using his incredible intellect to toy with the psyche of the man who caught him.

There’s something oddly enthralling about Will Graham’s constant mental struggle.  After visiting Dr. Lecktor, he seems to constantly be circling the void, wrestling with the awful idea that he may have to embrace the madness in order to catch his quarry.

Disturbing imagery and intelligent use of music help create the unsettling atmosphere that permeates Manhunter. An intentionally bland colour palette reflects the sombre mood of the film. However, sudden, violent explosions of colour reflect the simmering rage and instability of the main characters.  The score is barely perceptible at first but this subtlety eventually gives way to impossibly loud, pulsating rock/synth sounds that creates a sense of unease.

It’s a little rough around the edges, most noticeably towards the end, but Manhunter is an utterly engrossing chiller.  It’s a fascinating probe inside the mind of a serial killer and, barring the odd visual hiccup, is gripping from start to finish.



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