Written by J.T. Johnson
ORIGINAL RELEASE DATE: August 15, 1986
DIRECTOR: Michael Mann
CINEMATOGRAPHY: Dante Spinotti
WRITER: Michael Mann
MUSIC: Michel Rubini, The Reds
Before 1991’s “The Silence of the Lambs”, there was 1986’s “Manhunter”. The movie is an adaptation of author Thomas Harris’ novel “Red Dragon”, the novel that introduced audiences to serial killer Hannibal Lector. The movie is produced by Dino De Laurentiis and directed by Michael Mann.
At this point, Mann was already known as the executive producer and showrunner of the successful show “Miami Vice”. He apparently didn’t want to get rid of his highly stylistic style for this film as it feels like an extended episode of “Vice”. However, the movie is not an all around bad adaptation of its source material.
In fact, the only reason the film is not called “Red Dragon” is due to the fact that Laurentiis did not want the film to be confused as a Karate film. The movie was released on August 15, 1986, and it performed poorly at the box office. Years later, the movie became a small cult phenomenon due to the fact that “Manhunter’s” lead William Patterson had become a star in “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” in 2000 and “Hannibal” was released in 2001.
The movie tells the story of Will Graham (Patterson), an ex-FBI agent who is called back in to track down a new serial killer. The thing that makes Will unique is his ability to think as the serial killer does. This takes a toll on the man’s psyche, but the FBI only has a few days to track this killer down before he strikes again and Will is their only hope of stopping the killer before there are more victims.
There is a great cast in this movie including Dennis Farina as FBI superior Jack Crawford, Tom Noonan as the killer known as the Tooth Fairy (a.k.a. Francis Dollarhyde), and Joan Allen as Reba McClane, a blind woman who manages to woo the Tooth Fairy. Then there is also Brian Cox as the first person ever to play the incarcerated serial killer known as Hannibal Lector. Anyone watching this movie will undoubtedly compare his performance to Anthony Hopkins in “The Silence of the Lambs”.
Truth be told, Cox does a pretty good job of making the character his own. He plays Hannibal as a much more down-to-earth kind of character but still manages to make him more unsettling than he ought to be behind bars. Granted, Cox didn’t know at the time that the character would go on to legendary status after other films were released, but he definitely does a strong job with this movie.
Noonan is also another strong point for the movie. The actor successfully makes Francis a rather creepy yet tragic character. You see instantly that this is a character that has probably been shunned and ridiculed his whole life despite the film not explicitly telling you this information. In fact, I would say that Noonan’s performance successfully rivals that of Ralph Fiennes’ version found in the 2002 adaptation of “Red Dragon”.
The movie does have several problems, however. At this point in his career, Mann apparently didn’t want to stray too far from his television origins. What this means is that the movie belongs very much to the 1980s and at times can seem like an extended episode of “Miami Vice” rather than a big budget flick.
It also doesn’t help that there has now been a more appropriate adaptation of “Red Dragon” that was released in 2002. That movie features Hopkins reprising his role as Hannibal. It also features Edward Norton as Will Graham, who arguably gives a much stronger performance than Patterson does in this original adaptation.
Still, I can’t help but recommend this film for those who want to see where Hannibal’s cinematic legacy began. Also, it’s not an all-around bad adaptation of its source material, though there are a few changes made, especially to the ending. Ultimately, though, for the rest of the audience who doesn’t quite care where Hannibal started on the big screen, I would say that you’re much better off with the 2002 adaptation rather than this very ‘80s version of Harris’ classic novel.