Thursday, October 07, 2004


Michael Mann. From Miami Vice to Collateral, he has always had a spotty resume for my tastes. I Loved Collateral. I thought Ali was bunk. I loved The Insider. Last of the Mohicans was pompous and portentous. Heat worked for the most part and was a solid film. (As rote Deniro performances go, I prefer Ronin however).
Now you know where I stand with Mann's CV, let me tell you my feelings on the Hannibal Lecter franchise. Silence of the Lambs is possibly the most overrated film in the last 25 years. I do not say this lightly. Let me ask anyone to take the overratedness challenge: "What do you remember from the film apart from the few short scenes of hammy Anthony Hopkins creeping out a dull and lifeless Jody Foster?" It was indeed a slow year for film in 1991 which allowed this mediocre, often unintentionally funny film to sweep the 4 big Oscars. Ridley Scott's completely unnecessary sequel was crap from moment one. I'm still embarassed for Julianne Moore, who may have set the downward spiral (in my opinion) post-millenial career with this choice of taking over the Clarice role and praise Jody Foster for her decision not to do the sequel (for whatever her reasons were). For cash-grab reasons only were the prequel/remake Red Dragon and follow on Lecter Variations made, and despite good actors in both (and all of the film in the franchise for that matter), I will not be seeing them.
Both of these elements bring us to Manhunter. A film made right in the middle of Michael Mann's Miami Vice era which is based on the first Thomas Harris novel about Hannibal Lecter (the novel was titled Red Dragon). It is the only film where Hannibal is not played by Anthony Hopkins. Instead he is portrayed by Brian Cox. Much like SotL, he is not the centre of the story, but rather a creepy advisor who edges his way into the hero's (another FBI agent) psyche. FBI agent Wil Graham is tracking down a killer who kills by the phase of the moon and inflicts bite marks on many of his victims, earning the name "The Toothfairy". He goes as much by trying to get into the killers head as he does the evidence. When Wil caught Lector, he had to decompress in a mental ward for a couple years, the experience was so intense. Now he seeks Lectors advice and that adds further conflict to an investigation which is already hampered by the ticking clock until the next full moon and anticipated murder.
I would call Manhunter probably the best of the Lecter films, with Brian Cox easily giving a performance (with extremely limited screen time) that surpasses Hopkins scenery chewing. He is menacing, indirect, predatory and confident even when completely captured. This is early in Cox's acting career and an indication of all the great character roles which he has been doing for the past 10 years. That aside, the film just is not that good. It certainly has much of the look of a Miami Vice episode (albeit with an increased budget). And William Peterson, playing Wil Graham, is just wooden and unconvincing. This is Steven Segal type acting and it undermines most of the good points of the movie. (Notice that I still think it is the best of the series..this doesn't say much for my opinion of these films). I know that Manhunter has a minor cult following. This may be due to it pulling no punches in the sick serial killer department (and Tom Noonan's Tooth Fairy has a couple of effective scenes terrorizing a young Joan Allen) but it just brought out too many elemnents of 1980s crime drama that I wanted to just go away (like too many episodes of Knight Rider and Hunter TV shows). Overall a disappointment, but I'll cut Mann some slack because this was his first big movie.

Aside: It is sad that this was pointlessly remade by Brett "Rush Hour" Rattner for purely monetary reasons. Cheifly for the capital crime of keeping Edward Norton, Emily Watson, Harvey Keitel and Philip Seymour Hoffman from working on better films.

The Good: Cox, Twisted Serial Killer, Slow-burn understated pace
The Bad: Don Johnson beard on Paterson coupled with his Van Damme acting chops, Eighties Fashion, Flaming Wheelchair scene just stooopid!


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