No eating of fava beans or Chianti’s here.
A sicko family-killer nicknamed “The Toothfairy” (Tom Noonan) is running wild and loose, and it’s up to retired-cop, Graham (William Petersen), to find out who this guy is exactly is, where he’s at, cuff him, and lock the son of a bitch away for good. The problem is that this killer is a lot smarter and trickier to find than he’s usually used to, which is saying a lot for the guy who locked away Hannibal Lecter (Brian Cox) for good.
Okay, here’s the thing: Everybody knows the story of Hannibal Lecter because of the 1991 flick, but, believe it or not, this one came before and actually let the world know of the flesh-eating intellectual that is Dr. Lecter. This movie is rarely ever mentioned in today’s day and age of thrillers, especially ones with the character of Lecter involved, but it was one of the first and best examples of how you can put a serial-killer and cop-procedural together, and make them mesh so well.
And it’s all thanks to Michael Mann, who practically ushered in a wave of thousands-upon-thousands of shows that remind us that, yes, DNA is everywhere.
If you know Michael Mann, or have at least ever seen a Michael Mann flick, then you definitely the guy ain’t one bit of shy when it comes to showing how stylish he can be and how much he doesn’t care what you think. For some (such as myself), the style can get a bit over-bearing at times, but for a flick like this that seemed like it needed it to spice things up, then I was all aboard and not a tad bit pissed-off. Okay, that’s a lie. Some parts had me instantly pissed because of the corny, 80’s-synth, over-dramatic line-delivery, and foreshadowing of colors in the background or somewhere in each shot, but that just comes with the package when you put Michael Mann and the 80’s together. You gotta get used to it after awhile, which is what I did, much against my initial taste test.
Mann’s direction is one of the key aspects to making this movie so great because he continually builds up tension and suspense, yet, never makes it seem like the story/case is ever going to be fully solved. He puts the detectives in the running-spot for completion, but somehow, the killer always seems one step ahead no matter what. You also actually get to feel for these cops because they aren’t dirty a-holes that can’t help but screw things over for others because they’ve got nothing else better to do. Nope, instead, they are just regular, everyday people, who have a job to do, families back at home, and will stop at nothing to complete their tasks and make the world a whole lot nicer, safer place to be in. In today’s day and age where we get some sort of crooked cop in almost every crime movie we see, it’s quite refreshing to see what it was like when we loved our men with badges, and didn’t think of them as scum who love donuts and pulling you over after curfew. Doesn’t mean I still don’t have beef with some of them, but hey, at least my gratitude was with these guys for the longest time, in all hopes that they would get this killer.
However, it’s a pretty hard decision to make, especially when you have a villain that is this cool, this smart, this sinister, and this creepy.
That’s all thanks to Tom Noonan who is not only insanely freaky as the Red Dragon, but intimidating as well. The guy’s got that lanky-build to him where he’s a towering-figure, but skinny to the point of where he looks like a living, breathing, and walking straw. And his looks? Well, let’s just say that Tom Noonan is the sexiest person in the planet, but that’s not a bad thing at all, because it works in his favor by making us more scared by the dude. Not only does he seem like he knows what he’s doing, but also knows how to send a message that he’s not be screwed around with either. Need an example? Try that scene where finds the reporter and tells him a little bit about himself; a scene I’m not going to go on about anymore, because it’s tense, heavy, and shocking, all at once and perfect at declaring the kind of individual we’re working with here.
Also, a lot of the credit for such a bad-ass villain has to go back to Mann, because the guy never over-exposes our villain at all. It isn’t almost until the half-way mark that we get our first glimpse at the guy, and even that’s not saying much since it’s only five minutes of him being a creep-o and getting involved in weird shenanigans. It’s an effective five minutes though, and actually makes you feel like this guy is never going to be found, no matter how hard these cops may try. You actually start to give up hope at one point, depending on the type of person you are, and almost come to the reality that the Red Dragon is going to get away with it all, and evil laugh his way into more murderous-pleasures.
However, when you stand in the way of William Petersen – not everything’s going to be so easy. Peterson is a nice fit as our main detective here, because the guy has a lot going for him to where we understand the problems that may occur in his personal life, as well as his work life when he has to do such a thing as get in the minds of the serial-killers he’s chasing after. But the guy never seems like he’s losing it to the point of where we question him, his skills, or his determination catch this killer and put all of the murders to rest. Petersen does over-act at times and it seems like just another case of bad writing, equals bad performance, but overall, the guy had me cheering for him in the end, even if it was a hard choice between him and Noonan. Both are great, even if they aren’t together on-screen for very long. Still, got to love when the film just builds up to the meeting between two, opposite forces, and absolutely delivers like this flick does.
The best of the rest is definitely Brian Cox as everybody’s favorite charmer, Hannibal Lecter. Cox isn’t playing the role we all know Anthony Hopkins for, but is giving us his own impression of him, with a few tinkers here and there. With just the short-amount of screen-time, we see how he operates, how he thinks, how smart he is, and how he’s not to be trusted no matter what he may say or do to you that could be considered nice or humane. Cox owns every scene he has and keeps this presence throughout the whole movie, even when he isn’t around. Having a double-threat like Noonan and Cox together was awesome, and just gave me more faith in the baddies, rather than the goodies.
Consensus: As with most films from the ultra-cool decade of the 80’s, Manhunter suffers from some cheese-tastic moments, but ultimately kicks some fine ass when it comes to building up an air of mystery, tension, suspense, and a feeling that you don’t know who’s going to come out of this alive, dead, or barely scratched.
8.5 / 10 = Matinee!!
Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images