Time can be incredibly kind to movies. In the case of Manhunter, which pretty much bombed upon release, time has been exceptionally loving. After all this film, based on the novel that gifted the world Hannibal Lecter, has helped to inspire any number of films and TV shows where crimes are solves with forensic science. It’s hard to believe that a flop could have such a wide-ranging impact.
Watching this in 2018 it is hard for this film not to be subject to the incredible shadow cast upon it by The Silence of the Lambs. Then again, the character of Hannibal Lecter aside, these are incredibly different films. Sure, both of them are crime thrillers with forensic elements but the atmospheres are incredibly different thanks to the directors.
Where Demme cast The Silence of the Lambs in a dark and sometimes claustrophobic world to help highlight the darkness of Buffalo Bill, Michael Mann instead plays with a lot of contrasts and juxtapositions. This isn’t just in the visual colour pallates, but also in the editing and, at points, shooting speed of scenes.
After all the lead character, a criminal profiler called Will Graham played by future CSI star William Petersen, succeeds in his job by trying to put himself in the mindset of the killer. So, the further we get into the movie the more out of touch he becomes, which is something that the film begins to reflect.
It’s also worth making a mention of Tom Noonan in his role as the serial killer known as ‘The Tooth Fairy’. He is able to make someone who is mostly mild mannered (until he, you know, sets you on fire) feel utterly intimidating just by standing there at his naturally tall height. Reminded me a lot of Cameron Britton in Mindhunters in how someone’s presence can just bring the tension.
I honestly went into this expecting a generic, but still decent, thriller. Having watched Manhunter I can say that I was pleasantly surprised. Still, I think this might be the end of my weird run of 1980s movies for now. Whilst this didn’t reach the heights of Come and See at least it was head and shoulders above Stranger Than Paradise. Maybe I’ll finish off the Michael Mann entries and watch Heat this weekend… I mean I really should see what the fuss is all about with the Pacino/De Niro scene.