Manhunter ★★★★


[originally written on my blog]

Must play like CSI: Miami Vice to folks discovering it now, but its emphasis on forensic minutiae was unprecedented at the time, and arguably as bold as Mann and Spinotti's color-coded visual scheme. First half sticks closely to Harris, emulating his procedural directness while simultaneously creating operatic counterpoints unique to the film; apart from the unfortunate need to have Graham speak his thoughts aloud, which sometimes comes off a bit cheesy ("DIDN'T YOU, YOU SON OF A BITCH?!?"), it's a textbook example of how to adapt a novel in a way that combines respect for the source and cinematic innovation to maximum effect. Alas, the convoluted second half of Red Dragon would defeat almost any attempt at streamlining. Mann sensibly ditches Dolarhyde's entire backstory, but he also rewrites the final act to allow Graham and his family a measure of peace, which voids the film of all meaning—a decision foreshadowed by the otherwise odd choice to make the kid Graham's actual son rather than his stepson, while retaining scenes in which Graham struggles to earn the kid's confidence. (No father treats his own offspring with such studied reserve, unless he's been away from home for years or something.) Even when I saw Manhunter in first-run, unfamiliar with the book, it was clear that something was missing—I just didn't yet know what it was. Priming the viewer for an abyss that gazes also, Mann ultimately settles for an abyss that blinks a few times before starting to feel vaguely uncomfortable and looking at its shoes. Also: Cox's "Lecktor" is hammier than I remembered, far from ideal, but he still wipes the floor with Hopkins' sepulchral self-consciousness.

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