Manhunter [1986]

Genre: Crime, Mystery, Thriller
Rating: R (Restricted)
Runtime: 120 minutes

Though it will always be remembered as the movie featuring the "other" Hannibal Lecter, Michael Mann's 1986 thriller Manhunter is nearly as good as The Silence of the Lambs, and in some respects it's arguably even better. Based on Thomas Harris's novel Red Dragon, which introduced the world to the nefarious killer Hannibal "the Cannibal" Lecter, the film stars William Petersen (giving a suitably brooding performance) as ex-FBI agent Will Graham, who is coaxed out of semiretirement to track down a serial killer who has thwarted the authorities at every turn. Graham's approach to the case is a perilous one. First he seeks counsel with Lecter (Brian Cox) in the latter's high-security prison cell--an encounter that is utterly horrifying in its psychological effect--and then he begins to mold his own psyche to that of the killer, with potentially devastating results. As directed by Mann (who was at the acme of his success with TV's Miami Vice), this sophisticated cat-and-mouse game never resorts to the compromise of cheap thrills. Predating Anthony Hopkins's portrayal of Lecter by four years, Cox plays the character closer to Harris's original, lower-key conception, and he's no less compelling in the role. Petersen is equally well cast, and as always Mann employs rock music to astonishing effect, using nearly all of Iron Butterfly's heavy-metal epic "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" to accompany the film's heart-stopping climactic sequence. All of this makes Manhunter one of the finest films of its kind, as well as further proof that Harris's fiction is a blessing to any filmmaker brave enough to adapt it. --Jeff Shannon

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