In 1991, The Silence of the Lambs shocked audiences. Not only was it an excellent movie, but it also swept the Oscars, winning almost every major award. Currently, in 2001, Hannibal has drawn $123 million domestically. But maybe people don't know about the original Hannibal Lecter film called Manhunter, based on Thomas Harris' novel Red Dragon. This is the movie that introduced Lecter to the big screen... It also a movie that should best be forgotten.
Manhunter stars William L. Petersen as FBI Agent Graham, the man responsible for capturing Lecter. Unfortunately, in the process, Lecter got inside his head and screwed him up quite a bit, resulting in Graham's retirement from the force. But when a new killer called "The Tooth Fairy" starts murdering people seemingly at random, Graham is brought back onto the scene.
It is somewhat unfair for me to compare Manhunter to Silence of the Lambs since Manhunter came out first, but at the same time pretty much everyone has seen Lambs and hardly anyone has even heard of Manhunter. Maybe that is because Lambs is so good, and Manhunter is so bad. Hell, even Hannibal is an Oscar-winner compared to this piece of crap.
The main problem with Manhunter is that the main character is even more messed up than the psychotic killer. While the killer looks about as evil as he is, what we see in Graham is a messed up head that is trying to figure everything out, but never does. He talks to himself, he has visions of his wife with glowing eyes (what the hell was that?), and he does about the dumbest things possible during the climax of the film. Unlike Starling, who is interesting and a good character, Graham brings nothing but annoyance to the script.
Second, the movie is boring. The film drags on forever and ever without much plot development, and when there are what should be good scenes, there is nothing but more crap. The biggest reason for this is that the emphasis of the story is on Graham's inner workings, not on capturing the Tooth Fairy. The best parts of the film is when we actually get to see the Tooth Fairy at work; he is almost just as creepy as Buffalo Bill. Unfortunately, we see the Tooth Fairy very little throughout the film, and near the end, when he does get a lot of screen time, he is for some reason falling in love with a blind girl (Joan Allen). This is supposed to be more psychological crap, but it is really just crap.
Thirdly, Brian Cox as Hannibal Lecter just doesn't work. Again, it might be unfair to compare him to Anthony Hopkins, as Brian Cox came first, but Anthony Hopkins is the Lecter we all know and want to see, and Cox is not that. Part of it is the script; he isn't quite as clever-speaking as the Hannibal in the other movies... but part of it is him. His physical mannerisms just don't seem like the Lecter we know from the other movies and the books, and you can't help but feel a little disappointment when you see him on screen. The way he moves, the way he talks, and everything else just don't seem right, and there's no way in avoiding it. Furthermore, the movie never explains that he is such a bad guy; he's killed a few people, but that's it.
Michael Mann, who made The Insider what it is, does not have it in Manhunter. The camerawork is shaky when it shouldn't be, the editing is sloppy, and he is mainly responsible for the way the movie turned out. Not only did he direct the film, but he wrote it as well, and he put the emphasis in all the wrong places. Manhunter is a serial killer film and the focus needs to be on the serial killer, not on the mind of the FBI Agent.
Manhunter was two hours of wasted time. Its few redeeming moments are plagued by endlessly long and pointless scenes. The film never gets its intentions across, and the ending is just ludicrously bad. Fans of Silence of the Lambs should just forget that this movie ever existed.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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