Manhunter (1986 with William Petersen and Brian Cox)

USA / 1986

Director and Writer Michael Mann (from Thomas Harris’ novel Red Dragon)

Cast: William Petersen, Kim Greist, Joan Allen, Brian Cox, Tom Noonan, Stephen Lang, Dennis Farina

Michael Mann’s critically acclaimed adaptation of Thomas Harris’ Red Dragon is the first in his trilogy of chillers which introduced Dr Hannibal Lecter. The film was slated to be named after the book but Year of the Dragon had just bombed and Dino De Laurentiis ordered the title change to avoid any possible confusion.

William Petersen plays Will Graham, a retired FBI profiler who’s coaxed out of his beach home with wife Kim Greist by FBI boss Jack Crawford (Dennis Farina) who needs his peculiar skills to solve a series of bizarre murders. Graham’s skill is to be able to get into the mind of the killers, to think like them to such a degree he can predict their motives and possible next prey.

He retired after an encounter with Dr Hannibal Lecter (Brian Cox) which left him physically and mentally scarred. However, he turns to Lecter for help in order to help build up the profile – and it is Lecter who manages to communicate with the killer, placing Graham and his family in danger of being the next victims…

Mann skillfully plays the investigation against scenes of the killer Francis Dollarhyde (Tom Noonan), whose identity is revealed early on as he plans his next murder, but he is also conducting a gentle affair with a fellow worker Reba (Joan Allen), who is blind, thereby humanising the demon. The tension comes from the knowledge that Dollarhyde is going to strike again and only Graham’s skills can stop him. Some critics consider Mann’s raw edge superior to the flashier Silence of the Lambs and Cox’s quiet, brooding presence certainly bears favourable comparison to Sir Anthony Hopkins as everyone’s favourite cannibal.

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