Google+ Cinema Viewfinder: Manhunter at 25

Friday, August 26, 2011

Manhunter at 25

Summer of ’86: We Don’t Invent Our Natures…: Manhunter

by Tony Dayoub

[This is my entry in the House Next Door's annual "Summer of…" series, co-presented by Aaron Aradillas of Blog Talk Radio's Back By Midnight and Jamey DuVall and Jerry Dennis of Blog Talk Radio's Movie Geeks United! Manhunter was released in theaters on August 15th, 1986.]

I was never quite as taken as everyone else was when I first saw The Silence of the Lambs in 1991. After just coming off of two post-punk films which married comedy to violence in unpredictable ways (Something Wild and Married to the Mob) Lambs seemed like a dank, watered-down, miscalculated step into typical thriller territory for director Jonathan Demme. Worse, its Oscar wins seemed to tempt derail Demme’s career for a while, as he pursued projects more for their awards-worthiness than for any personal interest in the material. Admittedly, Anthony Hopkins’ performance as serial killer Hannibal Lecter was electrifying. But the fact that this cannibal killer was imprisoned in what looked like a dungeon struck me as both phony and a little too on-the-nose in its attempt to force Jodie Foster’s heroine to descend into Hades every time she needed more help with her case. So deliberately unusual was Hopkins’ glassy-eyed intensity and odd vocal inflection, it was years before I connected his character to Brian Cox’s Hannibal Lecktor (sic) in Manhunter, a film I had caught in theaters just five years earlier...



Aden Jordan said...

Nice post, Tony.

Out of "Manhunter", "The Silence of the Lambs", "Red Dragon", and "Hannibal" (I never saw "Hannibal Rising" nor do I care to), "Manhunter" is by far the superior film and a far more accomplished work of art than the award-winning "The Silence of the Lambs".

Aden Jordan said...

I think you're right on the money by noting how Mann and Cox humanize Lector in a way that is more believable (and jarring) than the way Demme and Hopkins handled the character. Noonan's character, despite the evil of his actions and his pathetic strangeness, is also far more human and even a little sympathetic in comparison to Ted Levine's character in "Lambs" and Ralph Fiennes' take on the same character in "Red Dragon".

I think it's easy to be contrary and look back in hindsight and say that Hopkins' performance might have been overrated, but I do think that there is a subtlety, humanity, and plausibility that Cox and Mann invest the character that is less over-the-top than what Demme and Hopkins did with the character.

Lastly, "Red Dragon" is a pointless remake of a near-perfect film, and "Manhunter" is up there with "Heat" as Mann's best work.