Manhunter (1986)

(On TV, August 1998) Adapted from the Thomas Harris novel Red Dragon, this movie is amazingly faithful to the source material, up to the end where the book’s lackluster ending is replaced by a gunfight. Good idea, but it’s so ineptly shot that it takes away a lot of the movie’s previous impact. Still, a better-than-average thriller. Harmed considerably by the inclusion of a god-awful early-eighties electro-synth soundtrack. Of historical interest; Written and Directed by Michael Mann (Heat, The Last Of The Mohicans).

(Second viewing, On DVD, October 2002) Now that Thomas Harris’ Red Dragon has been re-adapted by Brett Ratner et al., Michael Mann’s first take on the material can be re-examined with a better critical eye. Certainly, certain aspects haven’t aged well: Underlit tables and antiseptic sets irremediably brand Mann’s Eighties aesthetics style. The awful electro-synth soundtrack is simply unbearable now. Certain plot developments come out of nowhere and don’t make much sense if you haven’t read the original novel (The discovery of the toilet-paper message isn’t very well explained, for instance) Finally, the film’s low budget must have ran out at the last minute, because the rushed ending ruins what would have otherwise been a pretty good thriller. It’s not as if the film is bad, though, even now. The urgency, personal toll and sacrifices required of the lead Will Graham protagonist (played by a too-intense William Petersen) are well-shown, and the film contains a narrative energy that only flags in the third quarter. It’s a solid thriller, too stylish for its own good but worth a look even now, though more as a comparison point between it and 2002’s superior Red Dragon.

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