Manhunter has much to recommend it; as the first adaptation of Thomas Harris’s books, it hasn’t had the same cultural impact of the superior Silence of the Lambs, but it benefits from Harris’s richly considered world, falling somewhere between fantasy and realism. Even without knowledge of Harris’s canon, the characters feel fully-developed, even in minor roles (like Chilton, who only receives cursory screen time). One such “minor” role, Hannibal “Lecktor,” is played in this film by Brian Cox – it’s a solid performance, more grounded than Hopkins or Mikkelsen, though not as memorable.
There’s a valid argument that Silence of the Lambs qualifies as horror; while I wouldn’t extend that argument to Manhunter, the film’s undeniably chilling, whether it’s the ominous opening scenes or Freddie Lounds’ encounter with the “red dragon,” Francis Dolarhyde. But the film’s atmosphere lacks the consistency of Lambs, due to one of its two major flaws – a hugely dated, poorly conceived soundtrack. It’s awful and near impossible to ignore. The other significant flaw arises in the finale, where director Michael Mann – who’s never met a gunfight he didn’t like – moves from painstaking police procedural into clumsily edited action. It’s a disappointing conclusion to an otherwise excellent production.