Manhunter (1986)

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.

Tom Noonan in Manhunter (1986)

Tom Noonan as the “red dragon,” Francis Dolarhyde

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.

Rating: 148/200

9 thoughts on “Manhunter (1986)

    • Thanks, let me know what you think! It’s definitely not on the same level as Silence of the Lambs but it’s an excellent film that seems to be mostly forgotten.

    • Yeah, it’s a gorgeous film (well, until the finale, which is well filmed but edited in a really choppy fashion – it’s a deliberate choice but I thought it looked terrible). I’d love to see someone do a “remix” of the film with a more modern soundtrack, as it really holds the film back. Maybe it sounded normal back in the ’80s, but I’m pretty sure it’s over the top even for that decade!

  1. Oh God, the music in this movie… it’s SO ’80s. And definitely very, very dated. I also agree that the conclusion to this film isn’t as strong as it could’ve been.

    • Yeah, story-wise I would’ve liked to see the conclusion closer to the book (which I haven’t actually read, but I’ve read how it ends), because otherwise Graham’s family feel somewhat peripheral to the film. And the weird editing just makes no sense to me, especially because it’s such a stylistic departure from the rest of the film.

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