Review: “Manhunter”

I’m regularly finding that its usually in ones early teen years that people first see the films that they will remember and cherish for a life time – amongst them were “Aliens” and “The Silence of the Lambs”.

But where as I was aware that “Aliens” was a sequel (something a lot of my young peers didn’t know of till the further sequels came along), I had no clue ‘Silence’ itself was a sequel to this film until about two years later. Even today you could easily walk down the street and find that a good portion (if not the majority) of people who know of ‘Silence’ are unaware of the first Lecter outing which was done by a little-known Director at the time called Michael Mann who has gone on to become one of Hollywood’s biggest names with films like “Heat” and “The Insider”.

The clips I had seen never really interested me and it wasn’t until late last year that I finally got around to seeing Mann’s film which sadly suffers quite noticeably from its age. ‘Silence’ is a work of art with each frame beautifully dark and rendered in rich colours with everything from the lighting, the dialogue, the haunting music, the performances – all spot on tone and still look totally fresh even ten years later.

“Manhunter” suffers from a lower budget and less skilled filmmaking with nowhere near as memorable characters and a decent but not particularly engaging tale. Nevertheless the film certainly has some great moments which push it only just slightly above the average efforts of the genre and while it lacks the richness of ‘Silence’ it certainly does come across as more realistic.

The main thing pushing it along are the performances. Petersen proves surprisingly engaging as the burned out cop which is done in a way that never resorts to cheap scenes done purely for exposition purposes. His dialogue may not be that great, but its actually his body language which is the more telling performer here. Noonan is also surprisingly good as the killer, a character much deeper and more complex than the rather stereotypical style of Jamie Gumb in ‘Silence’.

Noonan’s insane of course, but is more of a loner who desperately wants to be loved – and there are times one can’t help but sympathise with him. However easily the best performer of the whole film is Joan Allen as the blind woman Noonan feels for. Allen is fantastic in the way that she’s an assertive female character in a time when there weren’t many in cinema an she does the emotional bits well.

The scene involving her stroking and listening to the heart beat of a anesthetized tiger is the movie’s emotional highpoint and is the scene you’ll probably remember the most. The other most memorable scene is on the complete opposite end of the scale and is a quick one-second shot of the fate of a nosy reporter that gets too close to Noonan. Its so fast and surprising you’ll jump in your seat.

Then we come to Dr. Lecter of course. Brian Cox plays the flesh eating cannibal this time around and sadly can’t hold a flame to Hopkins. From the very first shot we see of of Hopkins standing in his cell smiling in ‘Silence’ you could fell the sheer menace, power and intelligence behind those eyes. As the performance went on you quickly learned how terrifying a monster this man is. Cox however plays the role much more straightly and thus while nowhere near as memorable or frightening, he certainly does make the Lecter character more realistic.

Lecter only appears in two scenes in the movie, both played one right after the other with a total screen time of only about 4-5 minutes. The first has Petersen and him talking and is more of a flat Q&A bit with Lecter eventually taunting Petersen (who seems asleep in those scenes). More interesting is the second scene which shows off the crafty side of Lecter as he places a call. The rest of the characters aren’t so great with Dennis Farina playing a completely forgettable Jack Crawford.

The cinematography is still kind of interesting but things like the gunfight scene scream 80’s, though not as much as a truly awful synthesizer style soundtrack which ruins the atmosphere in certain scenes. It may have worked back then but today it comes across as shite. The much touted ‘Directors Cut’ adds a small number of scenes and a new ending – most noticeable addition being a boring pre-Lecter briefing to Petersen by Dr. Chilton.

This scene is a real highlight of the difference between the two as in ‘Manhunter’ the warnings Chilton gives are in a flat tone that’s almost like a Uni Lecture (ie. dull) but in ‘Silence’ Chilton’s now famous “Do No Touch the Glass, Do Not Approach The Glass…” bit was great at building suspense. Its rare to find sequels better than originals, in this case though the sequel is light years ahead whilst the original itself remains a decent-good movie anyhow.