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Review Manhunter a.k.a. Red Dragon: The Curse of Hannibal Lecter (1986): Brian Cox is a better Hannibal Lecter!

genre: crime, mystery, thriller

In the opening sequence, you are witness to someone sneaking into a house and then gazing upon a couple sleeping in their bed. He is shining his torch, especially on the woman, and you just know he is up to no good. The strangest thing, though, the image was so blurry and bad that I was worried something was wrong with my copy of the film. But in a later scene the image is clear and crisp as you expect from a Blu-ray disc. It was obvious to me that we were looking through the eyes of the killer. However, only later it dawned on me that we are watching footage the killer himself has recorded. If that is not unnerving, I don't know what is.

Manhunter is an adaptation of the book named Red Dragon featuring horror icon Hannibal Lecter, who in this film is called Hannibal Lecktor. No idea why that is. He is played by Brian Cox. For some reason, Manhunter never got the appreciation it deserves. Some think that Red Dragon with Anthony Hopkins and Edward Norton was a better film and that Hopkins is a better Lecter. I have seen Red Dragon and can only remember some bits. For a fair assessment and comparison, I will watch that one again in the near future and see how it holds up. But one thing is clear for me. Where I once thought that Anthony Hopkins absolutely killed it as Hannibal, I now am convinced that Brian Cox plays the role as Hopkins should have done. Not to diminish his portrayal. I mean, I get that he played it as he was told too. But to me, it seems that Cox had given it some thought and played him like a normal person. You can't tell he is evil just by looking at him, which makes sense to me since in reality serial killers often are normal men who happened to have committed evil acts.

William Petersen plays Will Graham, a former FBI profiler, who is called back into action to pursue a serial killer, named the Tooth Fairy. Graham struggles with his own demons after having apprehended, Hannibal Lecktor. Graham is able to deeply empathize with the killers so that he can think like they do. So much so that Lecktor's mind got stuck in him. Hannibal even implies that Will is very much like him. The focus in this film therefore lies on Graham and his pursuit. You don't get to see the evil acts. Only the aftermath and the evidence and the process of that evidence. All through the eyes of Will. It's a very interesting approach. At times, you do wonder about Will and whether he is suited for the job or should be locked up. Then again, he does come closer than everybody else in the law enforcement, so he is incredibly effective.

Manhunter is more a police procedural than a horror film, where the goal is to scare you. But make no mistake, Manhunter is pretty disturbing. It tries real hard to avoid showing you the horror, only by doing so makes certain scenes have more impact. The film is definitely atmospheric and beautifully scored and shot, but it lacks the sense of dread Silence of the Lambs has. One could argue whether that is better or not. I was on the edge of the seat when the finale occurred. Even knowing how it would end, I still felt the tension and chills emanating from the Tooth Fairy.

Overall, I think Manhunter is pretty underrated if you ask me. Sure, it's a very stylish and expressionistic film, but that is done deliberately. Mann wanted to imply horror instead of showing it. But like I said, by doing so the film seems far more real and terrifying when you view it through the eyes of Will Graham. 

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