There’s no Killer POV episode this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, so I decided to chime in a bit early and give you my personal pick of the week. Ever since NBC’s HANNIBAL wrapped up its third & final season earlier this year, I’ve been eager to dive back in and revisit the original cinematic interpretations of Hannibal Lector. I recently picked up the stellar 3 disc Blu-Ray set that features MANHUNTER, THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS and Ridley Scott’s HANNIBAL, but before I even had time to break the seal on the packaging, the New Beverly here in Los Angeles announced a Michael Mann double feature with both THIEF and MANHUNTER on the bill. I had to wait to see it on the big screen!
It’s really strange to revisit this 1986 film considering the cultural and pop icon that the character of “Hannibal the Cannibal” has become. But reflecting back gives us context. At this point in his career, Mann has already made the TV movie THE JERICHO MILE, followed up by THIEF and THE KEEP. So for his 3rd theatrical feature, he tackled adapting the bestselling Thomas Harris novel RED DRAGON, originally published in 1981. I’m sure audiences weren’t even ready for this type of serial killer / cop story yet, but it’s definitely unique in Mann’s filmography, while yet feeling completely like one of his own original films.
Former FBI agent Will Graham (William Petersen) is retired, trying to live a peaceful existence with his wife and son after barely surviving his confrontation with Hannibal Lector. He was the man to apprehend him but the whole ordeal left him scarred, both literally and figuratively. But there’s a new serial killer targeting full families on the loose that the media have dubbed “The Tooth Fairy.” Jack Crawford (Dennis Farina) seeks out Will and begs him to take a look at the case. Will has an innate gift for catching killers of this sort because he can emotionally and physically get in their heads; think like them and, hence, figure out how to get to them. But ever since his last traumatic experience, it’s been difficult for him to pick up the scent. So he visits the last killer he captured in the hopes of getting his mojo back, Hannibal Lector.
There are now 3 alternate adaptations of this same source material, 2 of which have come out since I’ve last revisited MANHUNTER, so it was interesting to re-see this with fresh eyes. It’s a good film, there’s a lot of standout things about it, such as Brian Cox’s chilling and deadpan depiction of Hannibal. I also rather like William Petersen. He’s great in just about everything, but here he gives Will Graham that immediately relatable every man quality that is essential to his character. Also of note, the great Tom Noonan does his creepy best with his portrayal of Francis Dollarhyde, the Tooth Fairy, which is borderline-sympathetic yet terrifying. As a whole, the movie does feel dated, and a product of its time. I actually found it difficult to keep up with the plot on this last watch, but I already know the story so intimately that I personally never got lost, although I can see a newcomer easily losing track of what’s going on.
Also, I have the third season of HANNIBAL still fresh in my head, which really did deliver a great, different approach to this same story. The context of living with both Hannibal and Will for a few years before getting to the RED DRAGON story was the show’s biggest benefit. And while MANHUNTER doesn’t full-out properly adapt the shocking conclusion of the book and future interpretations, it does have a stylistic showdown between Francis and Will cut to the song “In A Gadda Da Vida,” which, to this day, gives me chills.
We now have so many options when it comes to spending a little time with our old friend Hannibal Lector, but I strongly suggest going right back to the beginning with MANHUNTER, which is why it’s my pick of the week. It’s worth the trip!