What it takes to catch a serial killer is tantamount to being one.
My second choice at University was psychology. I was particularly interested in criminal psychology; figuring out what makes people commit crimes. Of course Film and TV had a great impact on me, particularly back then, still in my teenage years, and the two most influential productions were Jimmy McGovern’s TV series Cracker, starring Robbie Coltrane, and Michael Mann’s psychological thriller Manhunter, which was based on the first Hannibal Lecter book by Thomas Harris, Red Dragon. Both showcased criminal psychologists, ‘profilers’ helping the authorities understand – and thus catch – several dangerous individuals.
I had previously encountered the character of Hannibal ‘the cannibal’ Lecter in Jonathan Demme’s 1991 thriller, The Silence of the Lambs, starring Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins. Although made several years after Hannibal’s first outing in Manhunter, it was considerably more successful (and more critically acclaimed), and therefore much easier to come across, whether on TV or at your local video store. Anthony Hopkins’s portrayal of the immensely popular extreme anti-hero character of Lecter has been recognised as the #1 movie villain by the American Film Institute – a brilliant mind who had a predilection towards ridding the world of the interminably rude (as Hopkins is quoted as having described the character). Indeed, it’s a tremendous performance, brimming with curious mannerisms and eccentricities, and with a propensity for unconscionable violence towards others – the ultimate anti-hero, as, whilst you were aware of the extremes of his behaviour, you still somehow wanted his superior intellect to win out. As is remarked by Lecter himself in one of the adaptations, you wonder why he lives in a world where he is not simply executed – or, alternatively, allowed to have his brilliant mind put to good use; perhaps this is where the popularity of the character emanates from, playing a big part in why we root for him.
“What about sweating him?”
“We tried sodium amatol on him three years ago to find where he buried a Princeton student; he gave 'em a recipe for potato chip dip.”
Yet Hopkins’s Lecter was not the man to draw me into the world of criminal psychology; his take on the ‘elite psychopath’ felt like a distorted one at best – I’m not sure how many psychopaths have been recorded in history as having the same twisted code of conduct and ‘Robin Hood’ tendencies. Indeed he felt like something of an abstract character to me, engagingly brought to life by Hopkins, but almost impossible to relate to on any level. A psychologist’s nightmare, no doubt, but also a creature that they were never actually likely to encounter in real life. Even the serial killer that they are chasing in The Silence of the Lambs seems more cartoon monster than real-life entity – in another film he could have easily been classed as an inbred mutant (as in The Hills Have Eyes), for example.
On the other hand, both Manhunter and Cracker sought to allow you access to the mind of some far better developed and, in my opinion, more realistic killers; the former further detailing the damaging thought-processes that a profiler has to undergo in order to understand, and thus catch, his prey. It remains, to this day, one of the best examples of an atmospheric psychological mood thriller, about thinking like a killer, in order to catch one.
“Give it up!”
“I gave it up! Till you showed up with pictures of two dead families, knowing goddamn well that I'd imagine families three, four, five and six!”
There’s a serial killer on the loose. Nicknamed the ‘Tooth Fairy’, he has thus far killed two entire families in the course of a couple of months, and the FBI, believing that he is on a lunar cycle, have less than a month until the next full moon, and, thus, the next attack. Convinced that he is the only man who can possibly help catch the man in time, FBI Agent Jack Crawford personally visits retired Special Investigator Will Graham, to persuade him to take the case. Graham was the man who caught, amongst others, the legendary Hannibal Lecter, but doing so almost cost him not only his life, but also his very sanity, and the notion of returning to the dark, depraved minds of psychopathic serial killers is not one that appeals to either him or to his wife and young son, who both saw what happened to him the last time he took such an involving case. Yet, faced with the knowledge of what happened to the last victims, and therefore what will happen to the future ones, Graham feels compelled to return to the fray and put his body, and mind, on the life once again, in order to put an end to these horrific killings: even if that means having to confront his old nemesis, Dr. Hannibal Lecter.
“How did you catch me?”
“You had disadvantages.”
Director Michael Mann’s vision of Thomas Harris’s first Hannibal Lecter book, Red Dragon, is a sumptuous feast of perfectly framed mise-en-scene cinematography; well-chosen and stunningly-captured architectural setpieces; frequently diegetic, atmospheric scoring; and highly stylised symbolic colour-cues, often used to represent the duality of the lead character’s personality, mirroring that of his serial-killing prey. Pretty-much every single shot has been clinically constructed to convey a mood, and to evoke a corresponding emotional feeling within the viewer. Whilst it does not stay all that faithful to the source novel (both in terms of reducing the presence of Lecter, and also changing the entire ending, debatably for the better), it instead breaks free of the trappings of a standard adaptation, standing tall as a masterpiece in its own right.
Doing some three years of extensive research prior to filming (not uncommon for him, and the reason why he has only made 10 films in the best part of 3 decades), Mann, together with his dedicated cast members, sought to bring the utmost realism to the project, and this further evolved the source novel into what we see on screen; whether stemming from the background done into serial killers, or FBI profilers, the authenticity remains, to this day, a notable hallmark of this crime classic. Indeed the depiction of forensic science and criminal profiling has been cited in textbooks on the subject, and real-life law officers have often remarked upon the accuracy and competence of the production.
“You’re so sly... but so am I.”
Casting was, of course, key, and Mann selected for his lead actor a young William Petersen, the man who is now more commonly recognised as Gil Grissom in the popular forensic TV procedural CSI. Mann had previously worked with Petersen on his earlier crime drama Thief, starring James Caan, but it was Petersen’s strong work on the William Friedkin thriller To Live and Die in L.A. which truly got the Director’s attention. Researching heavily for the role, and truly becoming the haunted, driven Special Investigator Graham, it’s not wholly surprising that the man didn’t ever make it big in Hollywood – his performance here left him so exhausted that he had to make some serious changes to leave his Manhunter demons behind, not really becoming truly famous (he turned down leading roles in Platoon and Goodfellas) until his starring turn in the original CSI – his character there quite obviously modelled on his character from Manhunter (albeit with a more quirky and less pained demeanour).
It’s easy to understand why he needed the break, however, particularly when you see just how much he put into the role of Graham: making him somewhat aloof, borderline socially inept, but somehow still effortlessly cool; giving him the clear intellect to hold his own against even the most brilliant psychopaths, yet displaying no overt arrogance; burying his emotions beneath a quiet, restrained outer shell, but giving him just enough visual cues and verbal outbursts to show the passion and pain brooding within. Aside from all the contemplative moments, where we find him literally musing to himself, as his understanding of his prey develops, and all the exclamations of discovery, “You took your gloves off to touch them, didn’t you?!”, surely the best scene in the film has to be when he takes his young son to the supermarket to buy some groceries – a ruse to confront the boy about the concerns that he may have for his dad’s sanity. A cinematic moment of sheer exposition is magically transformed into this touching father-son scene where Will recounts, with child-friendly simplicity, the true horrors that he had faced when he confronted the psychopath Lecter. Petersen is outstanding in this sequence, bringing so much to bear with such effectively minimalist dialogue, wearing his very experiences on his face in every look, and with every pause.
“When are you gonna’ kill him?”
“I’m not. It’s only my job to find him.”
Supporting him are numerous players, some of which didn’t quite gel with me at the time, but have since grown on me, and many of whom have gone on to become household names. Dennis Farina, who played a very cool dad in Out of Sight and was eminently unlikeable in Get Shorty, is on great form here, well cast as FBI Agent Jack Crawford – not only Will Graham’s mentor, but also a genuine friend (albeit one who calls upon Will to risk his sanity to catch another killer), and there are some really nice touches in his performance. When some of the taskforce members start picking away at Graham, for being slightly aloof and strange, it’s Crawford who gives them the evil eye; and when one of Graham’s insights into the killer’s actions turns out to be bang on the money, whilst Graham casually walks away, truly not caring what other people think about him – good or bad – it’s Crawford who gives them the ‘how'd you like them apples, a**hole?!’ look which they so deserve.
Tom Noonan (who had a cameo in Mann's later crime epic Heat, as well as guest starred opposite Petersen in CSI) nails the serial killer dubbed ‘The Tooth Fairy’ as well. Although not sporting the famous titular Red Dragon tattoo (whilst visible in stills, as shown opposite, it is not to be found in any available cut of the movie – more on that later), he still brings great presence to the part – his inhumanly tall physique making for quite the imposing threat, even before he opens his mouth to say things like “It is in your nature to do one thing correctly: tremble.” Of course, when he does speak, Noonan goes to great lengths to craft an often almost child-like character who, whilst clearly intelligent, also finds it quite hard to converse; the subtle touches with his insecurities over his cleft palette (he masks his lips with his hand every time he speaks) giving us a fully-rounded individual, not just a cartoon monster. This aspect of the film is also extremely clever, as we are introduced to him quite a long way into the proceedings, long after we know the intimate details of his horrific, inhuman crimes, and when we do meet him his story arc takes an unexpectedly human turn, as he discovers potential love in a blind co-worker – a lady who will never criticise him for his self-perceived ‘ugliness’. All of a sudden we feel sorry for the guy who’s just butchered two families.
“You sympathise with this guy?!”
“Absolutely. As a child, my heart bleeds for him. Someone took a little boy and turned him into a monster. But as an adult... as an adult, he's irredeemable. He butchers whole families to fulfil some sick fantasy. As an adult, I think someone should blow the sick f**k out of his socks.”
The female parts are marginally less well-developed – although no less well-acted – it’s just a shame Mann didn’t give them a tiny bit more room to breathe. A young Joan Allen plays The Tooth Fairy’s – aka Francis Dollarhyde’s – love interest, the blind Reba McClane, who is blissfully unaware of the dark side to this tall and strangely child-like man. Apparently Allen spent time studying with the New York Institute for the Blind, as well as practising walking around the streets with an eye mask on to help convince in the role, and she is certainly a good fit. It’s just a shame her character – as a result of the timeline of the story – does not come in until about halfway through, but at least Allen makes the most of the scenes that she is in, oddly looking ‘older’ in some of the shots from this film, some 25 years ago, than she did in the Bourne movies, just 5 years ago (the power of makeup!). Also we get Kim Griest as the beleaguered wife, Molly Graham, who can’t stand that her husband has to go back into the fray. Whilst her character does not play the pivotal part that she plays in the book (or the later cinematic adaptation), Griest gets several key moments – even more in the Director’s Cut – where she stresses her concerns for her husband’s mental health, whilst simultaneously showing her neverending support for him: “You’re going to make yourself sick... or get yourself killed.”
Last but far from least, the fabled first incarnation of Dr. Hannibal Lecter (spelt Lecktor in Manhunter, due to copyright issues). As stated, the great Anthony Hopkins may have given us one of cinema’s finest, most enigmatic uber-anti-villains, but his was neither the first nor, in my opinion, the greatest portrayal of Thomas Harris’s notorious cannibalistic serial killer. Played here by the consistently strong Brian Cox (The Bourne Trilogy, The Long Kiss Goodnight), this version of Lecter is far more subtle, and, as a result, arguably considerably more effective. Rather than scaring us with his ability speak eloquently and poetically one minute, and then remorselessly rip the face off prison guards the next, Cox’s incarnation is pure intellectual genius – sly, cunning, manipulative; yet without any of the grandstanding that makes Hopkins’s version so well remembered. This isn’t physical horror, or even the threat of it, but just the suggestion of menace – his first chess-game confrontation with Will Graham displaying a true battle of the minds that neither The Silence of the Lambs nor any of its sequels/prequels managed to fully realise (again, the scene is frustratingly abbreviated other than in the Director’s Cut), and his manipulative use of his one allowed telephone call to his lawyer is an astounding piece of charm, clever planning, stunning improvisation and pure-intelligence-used-for-pure-evil: “Operator? I don’t have the use of my arms, would be so kind as to dial a number for me?” In fact, on pretty much every single level Manhunter remains a significantly better movie than the later remake of the same source novel, Red Dragon, starring Hopkins and Edward Norton in these pivotal roles of Lecter and Graham. Whilst it remains marginally truer to the novel, it unfortunately explicitly depicts what Lecter did to Graham, where in Manhunter it was much more effectively implied. Further the performances and cinematography are good in Red Dragon, but strictly by-the-numbers (even with the same Cinematographer on board). For me, Manhunter remains far superior: not only the best movie to feature Lecter, but also the best depiction of Lecter.
Whilst I regard Manhunter to be an absolute masterpiece – its average Box Office results at the time growing to give it a now-huge cult classic status and a sizeable fan following to boot – it is certainly not the flawless gem which Director Michael Mann almost managed to pull off. Firstly, the production itself was plagued by problems: not only did they run out of money, being subsequently compelled to sling ketchup(!!) across the room for the pivotal climax (perhaps one of the reasons why this scene was trimmed for several later versions – more on that later), but, after shooting a near-perfect film (including the staccato editing for the final scene – that bit was intentional, and was done using multiple cameras shooting at different frame rates), which, as aforementioned, masterfully used colour tones to represent both the different characters and the duality of their natures (Will and his wife get steeped in cool blues, and Lecter’s scenes are all clinical white, whilst emerald greens and nightmarish magentas pervade the scenes with the Tooth Fairy – the colours often swapping to show the dark territory Will is slipping into), Mann was still not happy with his final cut. I’m not talking about his elusive Theatrical Cut, which – whilst not the longest cut – is still the preferred version for most of the movie’s fans (and the primary cut included here), but actually the first version he ever shot, which we will likely never ever see.
You see, in his first cut, Mann shot several key sequences with the Tom Noonan playing the Tooth Fairy complete with his requisite Red Dragon tattoo. The tattoo was a far bigger part of the book than this adaptation, as, there, it was explicitly detailed that the titular Red Dragon ‘took over’ Dollarhyde and compelled him to commit such heinous acts, where in Manhunter it is again only implied. Unfortunately, after shooting these scenes with the tattooed Tom Noonan, and after completing principal photography (and running over budget), Mann then decided that he did not like the tattoo, and that it trivialized the internal struggle that the serial killer was going through. To a certain extent, he may have been right, but the unfortunate side effect was that the scenes – which had been perfectly matched up in terms of colour tone and cinematography to match the similar mood style of the rest of the film – had to be quickly reshot, without the same colour tones and mood style.
As a final insult, the Producer, Dino De Laurentiis, insisted that the title be changed from the book’s title (Red Dragon), to Manhunter: allegedly he not only felt that the world ‘Dragon’ in the title would be too reminiscent of a Bruce Lee movie (of which there were two with ‘Dragon’ in their names) but also he had just been stung by the poor Box Office results of 1985’s Michael Cimino crime thriller, the flawed Year of the Dragon, starring a young Mickey Rourke, and didn’t want to be cursed by the ‘Dragon’ once again. Neither Mann, nor any of the cast particularly liked the generic title of ‘Manhunter’ although I have to say that it is difficult for me to completely dismiss it because, through my love for the film, I have also grown to love its title.
“If one does what God does enough times, one will become as God is.”
Of course the movie has also dated somewhat over time. Yet, in a strange sort of way, the moody atmosphere wins still out for the most part, and the heavy stylistic touches that Mann used have stood the test of time – even 25 years on you can still feel the veritable emotional tug that his visuals have during key scenes, perfectly enhancing the corresponding performances. Perhaps the two worse-offending stylistic choices (purely because they have dated so much) are some of the costumes chosen – most notably Will Graham’s black-fleck sports jacket, as well as basically anything worn by the snivelling journalist (played to weasel-like perfection by Avatar’s Stephen Lang) commit serious crimes in terms of the fashion police – as well as some of the music selected. Now some may have a problem with Mann’s soundtrack choices, but I think that several of his more extravagant tracks (including Prime Mover’s “Strong As I Am” and Iron Butterfly’s “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida”, which were both diegetically integrated – i.e. played within the film) work perfectly to infuse the corresponding sequences with just the right amount of nightmarish delirium. Mann selected the Iron Butterfly track specifically because he had read about a serial killer who had become obsessed with a young girl, and who had stated that this particular track was ‘their song’, and, indeed, I think it is quite a twisted, effective choice for the closing sequence. On the other hand, though, the final closing credits track is such 80s Phil Collins-esque cheese that it may have even sounded out of place in the cheese-tastic Top Gun – a truly awful choice and one which I wish he had removed in one of the half-dozen different cuts of the film that he has produced over the years (Mann appears unable to leave his work alone, returning to do multiple cuts for over half of all the films that he has ever done, including his previously perfect crime epic Heat – he's almost as bad as George Lucas, only he happens to be tinkering with considerably better movies.)
Ultimately, irrespective of the flaws that I have highlighted above, the movie still remains a true masterclass in terms of acting, direction, cinematography and story design. It is up there with the creme de la creme of the Director's work, Heat (of course) and The Last of the Mohicans in my personal Top 10 (although I do also have a soft spot for Miami Vice and Ali, both underrated gems). An absolute classic, Manhunter is one of the best psychological thrillers of all time, an insightful look into the method and madness behind not only the psychopathic serial killer but the driven detective out to catch him. I cannot recommend it strongly enough.
“It’s just you and me now, sport.”
Well, what with this and Brotherhood of the Wolf, it seems like I’m doing a lot of multiple-film-cuts comparisons recently. I thought Salt was bad with its 3 versions, or even Brotherhood, with its 4, but now we come to Manhunter, which has had no less than 5 different versions over the years (although only 4 were ever released, the fifth version was the first cut of the film, which included footage of the Tooth Fairy complete with tattoo – we will likely never see this). I have no idea why Michael Mann has tinkered with Manhunter so damn much over the years. Sure, he didn’t like some of the scenes at the time so he cut them (the tattoo scenes), then he didn’t like the ketchup blood splatter so he cut that, but there has to be something wrong for us to have no less than 4 different versions available, and none of them really the definitive cut.
The following is a list of the different versions which have been released on SD-DVD at one time or another:
1. (OTC) Original Theatrical Cut (120 mins)
2. (ABTC) Anchor Bay Theatrical Cut (121 mins) – also known as the Theatrical Cut Workprint
3. (DC) Director’s Cut (124 mins) – also known as the Director’s Cut Workprint
4. (DPV) Director’s Preferred Version (119 mins) – also known, somewhat confusingly, as the Official Director’s Cut
On this new StudioCanal release we get two of these – the Original Theatrical Cut, and the Director’s Preferred Version – but only the Theatrical Cut is presented in 1080p High Definition (please ignore the label on the front which states ‘Director’s Cut’ as this is just imprecise – but they obviously called it the ‘Director’s Cut’ because calling it the ‘Director’s Preferred Version’ would have just confused purchasers even more).
And don’t worry, it is good news that we get the Original Theatrical Cut cleaned up and presented in glorious HD (I’m assuming with the same presentation that the recent US release got), as this is the fan-preferred version and, in my opinion, the best version. The only downside is perhaps that we don’t get the longer Director’s Cut also included on the disc – but this is offset by the fact that the Director’s Preferred Version sports a Commentary track, where the DC simply does not.
Right, so, again for simplicity, I’m going to break down the key differences into their relevant scenes, which appear in chronological order in the movie. There are several other small touches, scenes that start marginally earlier (like the different credits – some which play over a blue screen, some which play over the first conversation between Graham and Crawford) and scenes that have been subtly tweaked, but these really don’t matter too much. The key ones are as follows, with the corresponding tags to show which scenes are shown in which movie – and which aren’t included:
1. Alternate elevator sequence. (OTC/ABTC)
2. Different home video footage after Graham pauses the home movie to phone his wife and tell her he loves her. (OTC/DC/DPV)
3. Alternate versions of presentation:
a. Graham watches. (OTC/ABTC)
b. Graham participates. (DC/DPV)
4. Graham talks to cops about exactly what happened to Lecter’s victims after the presentation. (OTC/DC/DPV)
5. Graham’s wife phones him to talk about paint colours, he flips, and she tells him she loves him. (DC/DPV)
6. Graham talks to Dr. Chilton before his first meeting with Lecter. (Director’s Cut ONLY)
7. Graham’s first meeting with Lecter (extended). (DC/DPV)
8. Realtor shows Graham around house. (DC/DPV/ABTC)
9. Crawford tells Graham that he is flying his wife up to visit him. (DC/DPV)
10. Graham meeting his wife “Time is luck”. (DC/DPV/ABTC)
11. Slide show narration:
a. Talks about victims before mutilation. (DC/DPV)
b. Talks about victims before and after. (OTC/ABTC)
12. Graham explains to Crawford why he sympathises with the Tooth Fairy. (Original Theatrical Cut ONLY)
13. Graham shoots The Tooth Fairy (extended):
a. Graham shoots 5 times, intercut with 3 bullet impacts. (DC/DPV)
b. Graham shoots 6 times, intercut with 5 bullet impacts. (OTC/ABTC)
14. Alternate resolution:
a. A wounded Crawford joins Graham at the dock immediately after the shootout. (OTC/ABTC)
b. Graham goes to meet the family he saved. (DC/DPV)
None of the versions available on any release include all of the above scenes, unfortunately, which is primarily why you have to purchase multiple editions of the movie to form a complete Manhunter picture. Worse still, some of them are of particularly poor quality, which is probably the reason why there is no ‘complete’ version out there.
Original Theatrical Cut
The Original Theatrical Cut is, as stated, the best version. It works best mainly because it includes most of the most important scenes, omits most of the scenes which were best omitted, and misses the least amount of important scenes. From little things like the brief shot of Graham in his hotel elevator (which again speaks towards the architectural superiority of the movie’s setpieces), to the little added angle about Lecter’s previous victims; from the added bit where the Tooth Fairy shows the journalist slides of his victims both before and after their mutilation (which makes more sense, as you can then see why the journalist is so concerned when he sees his photo up there), to the nice nod at the end, which shows us what happened to Crawford (we would otherwise assume he was dismissively killed almost off-screen). The final gunshots are neither here nor there – some prefer less shots and less impacts because this makes slightly more sense (the bullets, after all, were stated to be “guaranteed one shot stop”), whilst others prefer the more violent version included here on the Theatrical Cut. Also, this cut does not have that funny, tacked-on ending where Graham goes to visit the family who were next on the Tooth Fairy’s list. Most people, myself included, prefer the film without.
The only marginally disappointing losses on the Theatrical Cut are the extra moment with Graham and Lecter, which only further emphasises the chess-mind-game between the two of them; the brief phone call to Graham’s wife where he shows the stress that the case has put him under by flipping over her trivial questions about ‘what colour to paint the room’; and the hotel scene between Graham and his wife, where we get to see the scar Lecter left him, and where she talks about the first time they met, and says “time is luck” (Mann clearly loved the line, as he later went on to put it in Heat).
Of course the biggest reason fans wanted the Original Theatrical Cut to be released was because it was the only version of the movie which included Will Graham’s superb dialogue with Crawford about his sympathy for the killer: “As a child, my heart bleeds for him.” I think this is a very important moment, which explicitly shows Graham’s feelings towards the killer, his sympathy, and his ultimate standpoint.
Director’s Preferred Version
The other version available on this release is the Director’s Preferred Version. It can also been regarded as the Official Director’s Cut, because the previous, longer, Director’s Cut (which was available on the US 2000 Anchor Bay red-cover 2-disc limited edition SD-DVD release) was actually more like a workprint which Mann crafted using video masters. Now, this is great for curiosity value. Sure, it comes presented in just SD, with only a LPCM 2.0 soundtrack, but it is pretty watchable – obviously looking identical to the previous SD-DVD release of this cut (it was available on the UK 2003 Anchor Bay black-cover 2-disc special edition). It is actually shorter in runtime, but this is mostly because it employs alternative footage to the Original Theatrical Cut, as well as a vastly reduced opening credits sequence, as already noted, resulting in plenty of additional scenes at the expense of just a couple of moments. If it weren’t for the odd, tacked-on, ending (which only works if you read into it that Graham had become so much like his prey that he simply had to see the future victims in order to finally gain closure), and the fact that we are missing the great “my heart bleeds for him” scene, this could – if polished up in HD – have been the definitive cut. But, unfortunately, that’s just a dream, and this is just a curious alternate cut. As a final note, the one lacking scene which you cannot see on either of the cuts included on this release is the early sequence where Graham talks to Dr. Chilton, prior to visiting Lecter for the first time. This scene is only available on very, very poor quality video tape, so it is not surprising that Mann did not feel the need to keep it in his latter-day Director’s Preferred Version releases.
In the US, the Blu-ray release sports only the Original Theatrical Cut, so we should definitely be grateful that here in the UK we get two versions (even if true completists will still want to hold on to their SD-DVD copy of the old longer Director’s Cut just for the sake of that missing scene).
In conclusion, I would say this is the best package, in terms of Manhunter versions, that we have ever seen, and that we are ever likely to see.
Our Review Ethos
To comment on what you've read here, click the Discussion tab and post a reply.