dale_croupier’s review published on Letterboxd:
Hot on the heels of finally finishing Bryan Fuller's Hannibal adaptation for NBC, I decided to go back and read the Thomas Harris book it was (very loosely) based on. Fuller's TV series is gory and tense and psychologically engrossing, even if at times it required a lot of logical leaps of faith and muddling through overly suggestive dialogue that was psychologically fraught but narritively DOA. Reading the book shows the necessity and beauty of adaptations, how Fuller and his writing team took what were the barest outlines of a relationship and built it into a cathedral of co-dependence, lust, shame, anger, and genuine affection. That said, Harris is a terrible writer and it's to Fuller's credit that he was able to write so much around what Harris did, even incorporating his uneven and controversial Silence of the Lambs sequel into the show in a much more satisfying, character-appropriate way. In doing so, Fuller changes nearly everything: the characters, their relationships, their motivations. Reading the book and then going into the show you'd have two totally different, albeit flawed, experiences.
Mann's near-masterpiece goes the opposite direction, deciding to keep much of Harris's pot-boiler plot but strips away all that is unnecessary, instead zooming in on what's really at stake here: Will Graham's sanity. Mann doesn't lean into this as much as Fuller, but it's also more apparent than in the novel, where Graham just appears overworked and ready to tumble into another depressive episode if he doesn't catch his man in time. Here, with the finer details stripped out it really feels like Graham is close to the edge, ready to snap at any moment. Manhunter leans away from the idea that Graham is a Dexter-like sociopath, and instead is content to just portray him as a deeply empathetic investigator who continually gets too close to his subjects and risks his health and safety. Stripping out all of the humanizing elements of Dolarhyde is a strength here. Hannibal, being a TV show, is able to lean into Dolarhyde's story in a way that a 2-hour movie just can't. The effect is to make Tom Noonan's Red Dragon more ineffable, less comprehensible, and more terrifying. He's just your standard-level creep in this movie, going around slaughtering families for his glory, none of the messy psychobabble from the book or TV show rear their heads. It's a little jarring coming off of the book, but it simplifies things that get too messy and complicated otherwise.
This movie also SCREAMS of the 1980s: the neons lights, the syrupy synth score, the chunky electronics, Will Peterson's crushed velvet suits, all of it made me wish I was born ten years earlier so that I could go back and experience it in all of its dumb, gloomy, late-cold-ward glory.
I don't know if I LOVE a lot of Michael Mann movies, even if I think many of them are well-made, but I LOVE Manhunter. It was my introduction to Mann and I don't think I'll ever quite get over that first impression it made on me, even if subsequent rewatches don't leave me in the same state of awe. I'm going to queue up Brett Ratner's Red Dragon next and while that has the better cast I can't imagine it will contain even a tenth of the level of artistry Mann brings to bear here.
Also I am really not looking forward to that fucking Tiger scene for the FOURTH time in what will be as many weeks. I hate it so much and I can't even tell you why.