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With: William Petersen, Brian Cox, Tom Noonan, Kim Greist, Joan Allen, Dennis Farina, Stephen Lang
Written by: Michael Mann, from a novel by Thomas Harris
Directed by: Michael Mann
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 119
Date: 08/15/1986

Manhunter (1986)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Hannibal Magnetism

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Not many folks know it, but Michael Mann's Manhunter is actually the first Hannibal Lecter film. It was based on Thomas Harris' first novel in the Hannibal Lecter series, Red Dragon, the title of which was changed to avoid sounding like a martial arts film. Brian Cox plays Hannibal -- spelled "Lecktor" in this movie -- who only has an incidental role. William L. Petersen plays Will Graham, a super-sleuth who catches serial killers by trying to understand their thought patterns. The tall, creepy-calm Tom Noonan (What Happened Was...) plays the scary killer, and multiple-Oscar nominee Joan Allen plays a blind woman, the object of the killer's affections.

Director Michael Mann lays on the style with thick, neon colors and a deliberately staged widescreen frame, balancing style and substance with a late-night hearse pace. The scene in which Allen's character is allowed to touch a sedated tiger is a breathtaking standout. The film's specific combination of mood and storytelling makes it my favorite of Mann's films to date, as well as the most interesting of the Hannibal series; it's certainly far better than Brett Ratner's soulless "official" version of the same novel, Red Dragon (2002).

In 2001, Anchor Bay released a special 2-disc Limited Edition (only 100,000 units) DVD, which contained the original 121-minute theatrical version on one disc and an unofficial 124-minute "director's cut" on the second disc. The theatrical cut was presented in a beautiful, crystalline picture and flawless sound, optimal for the film's brilliant pastel colors. But the director's cut appeared to have been mastered from a fuzzy videotape. A newer, 2003 disc combines the two, mixing three minutes of bad video with 121 minutes of sharp film. The whole shebang was supervised and approved by director Michael Mann, who also provides a commentary track. (He reveals that Brian Dennehy was an early contender for Hannibal!)

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