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USA 1986
Directed by
Michael Mann
119 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2 stars


Michael Mann's adaptation of Thomas Harris's novel ''Red Dragon'' has none of the dramatic intensity of his vigorous first feature Thief and instead gives us a turbo-charged but essentially formulaic serial killer movie.  

William L. Petersen plays Will Graham, an F.B.I. agent who has retired after a traumatic experience nailing Dr. Hannibal Lecktor (played here by Brian Cox). He is coaxed back to work by his friend Jack Crawford (Dennis Farina who had had a small role in Thief) to catch another serial killer who has slaughtered two families and is expected to kill again at the next full moon.

There is little to recommend about the film. Mann’s adaptation of Harris’s novel doesn’t work, requiring as it does Graham, who today would be called a profiler, to either speak his ruminations into a tape recorder or. that technique proving to be impractical, simply addressing the shade of the serial killer.  It’s a clumsy device and probably not helped by the fact that it doesn’t really matter whether Petersen is talking to real people or not – he never seems to be in the moment.  Probably not that any actor could have made the turgid dialogue work as Mann tries to build some kind of psychological profile of a once-abused child with a God complex who kills people so that he can fantasize that they desire him. Or something like that. The plot doesn’t make a whole lot of sense either, at times blinding us with the minutiae of forensic procedures, at other times not only having Lecktor communicating with killer via messages on toilet paper and ads in the local paper but, conveniently, being found out in the ruse.

Then there’s the overbearing soundtrack credited to The Reds and Michel Rubini . The 80s (there’s also a clumsy climactic shoot-out to the thunderous strains of Iron Butterfly’s 70s classic “Inna Gadda Davida” ) gave us some awful music in this respect but Manhunter must be one of the worst. It also suffers the period fashion in wardrobe and hairstyles.

Mann’s direction is typically slick, reflecting the aesthetics of the Miami Vice television series of which he was creator and which would produce a 2006 misfire for him as a director.

FYI: The film was re-made in 2002 as Red Dragon starring Anthony Hopkins and Edward Norton whilst of course Hopkins had his most famous role as Hannibal Lecter in Jonathon Demme's 1991 classic The Silence Of The Lambs.




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