As our kids have gotten older, our Halloween tradition has changed from one focused on trick-or-treating to one based on introducing them to a scary movie that they've never seen before. Up until last year we had watched "Interview with the Vampire" and "The Exorcist," both of which they enjoyed a lot (although their favorite scene in the latter was the "reverse spider crawl," which had not been part of the original). Last October we looked for "Manhunter," which now is probably best known for being the first movie to feature Hannibal Lecter (spelled "Lecktor" in this film). We were not successful (ended up watching "Dark Water" instead, which wasn't bad), but voila, this week it showed up on OnDemand, so we stayed up late last night to watch it. I hadn't seen it for over 20 years, the first time being as a date movie with my then-girlfriend, now wife. Now that William Petersen is one of the most recognizable faces on television and Michael Mann is one of the best-known film directors, I was interested to see how it has aged. Some observations:
- When you look at Petersen's portrayal of Will Graham, you can almost imagine that character growing up to be Gil Grissom of C.S.I. I've always liked Petersen, and it's a good performance, but one that is right on the edge of overdoing the intensity. Because so many of his lines are the vocalization of his thoughts, it's hard to find the emotion behind them; and only on a couple of occasions does Mann focus on the eyes, where it looks like Petersen was trying to channel his emotions. His scene with Lecter, although one of the best in the film, feels a bit forced; with its resolution (with Petersen, breathless, running out of the asylum) clearly designed to show off Mann's chops as a director, rather than Petersen's as an actor.
- Brian Cox (probably best known for his portrayal of villains in the X-Men and Bourne films) is wonderful as Hannibal Lecter, good enough that he makes one wonder what "Silence of the Lambs" might have been like with him in the role. His portrayal of Lecter is subtly different from that of Anthony Hopkins - he plays down the showy "fava beans..." insanity, and instead comes across as something that is even more frightening - the perfect English butler, albeit one who is totally insane and likes to do awful things to people.
- Joan Allen, in what must have been one of her first roles, is great as the blind woman working in the photography studio. The film makes a big deal about the role of sight in Graham's trying to figure out the identity of the "Tooth Fairy," but it's Allen who immediately recognizes the changes in the killer's voice and knows something is tragically wrong.
- Tom Noonan almost steals the movie as Francis Dolarhyde, aka the "Tooth Fairy." It is a tragic character because in his interactions with Allen he finally recognizes what he could have been, but by then it is far too late.
- Mann's direction is effective, but the production design feels overly showy (you can definitely feel "Miami Vice" all over the film). The white, sanitary asylum look is effective, but not quite as much as the bricks and dungeon look of "Lambs." And the soundtrack, which sounds like a cheap Tangerine Dream knockoff, feels way out of sync with what is happening on the screen.
Overall, it's a very good movie. I've never seen the remake with Hopkins and Edward Norton, but I can't imagine that it's any better than the original.