THE JOE-DOWN Reviews ‘Manhunter’

This is an installment for a series on this blog where Joe Brown, Sports Editor for the Red Wing Republican Eagle, and I have a back-and-forth review of a movie. We will take turns selecting a movie — any movie we want — and review it here. For this installment, I chose the Hannibal Lecter (or how this films spells it, “Lecktor”) vehicle, 1986’s “Manhunter.”

The info:

The Movie: “Manhunter” (1986)

Starring: William Petersen, Tom Noonan, Brian Cox, Joan Allen

Director: Michael Mann

Plot Summary: (From Rotten Tomatoes) Manhunter, a rough precursor to Silence of the Lambs (which was also based on a novel by Thomas Harris), follows an FBI agent (William Petersen) who brings maniacal killers to justice by duplicating their mindset. The agent’s last case, Dr. Hannibal Lektor (Brian Cox), caused his early retirement, but he reactivates himself to solve a mystery involving a killer who murders entire families.

Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 94 percent

Our take:

Froemming: I want to start this off by saying, I loved this movie. Two good movies in a row? Yes! I had actually seen it for the first time a couple of months ago when I finally came across it on Amazon Prime. My interest stemmed from my love of NBC’s now-canceled “Hannibal” series, which was based of the Thomas Harris novels that gave the world Hannibal Lecter.

This is, for the most part, not a Hannibal Lecter story. He is a minor character compared to the other films and the television show. But before I jump head first into this, what was your initial take on this, Brown?

Brown: Well, like a lot of people, I grew up knowing Hannibal Lecter as Anthony Hopkins, thanks to “Silence of the Lambs,” “Hannibal” and “Red Dragon” (which two of those movies are good). Then on a YouTube binge about a year ago, I came across a Nostalgia Critic review talking about which movie was better between “Red Dragon” and “Manhunter.” So I wanted to check out the movie myself, just to see Brian Cox as Hannibal Lecktor.

And like you, I thought this movie was awesome. With that said, in telling people we were reviewing this movie, no one seemed to know about “Manhunter.” So if this review can get people to go back, find this movie and enjoy it like we did, we’ll have done our job.

Froemming: Agreed. This is basically the plot of the book “Red Dragon” I haven’t read it yet (I do have a copy at home waiting). Basically, there is a serial killer on the loose, and law enforcement drag a former profiler of serial killers back into the game (wouldn’t be an 80s movie without a premise like that). Along the way, that profiler, Will Graham (played by future “CSI” star William Petersen) has to reconnect with his most infamous catch, Lecktor.

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Brown: Right away from the start, the tension rises when we take in our killer breaking into a home, marching up the stairs and waking up his next victim. To get that POV of someone about to commit grisly murders with that shrill 80s synth music is very eerie. You feel like you’re thrown into a sick mind. And we revisit that same thing later in the movie as Will goes through the same march up the stairs as he does the same thing he did to catch Lecktor: dive into the criminal’s psyche.

Froemming: And that scene when Will is going into the mind of the “Tooth Fairy” at the victims’ home was both creepy as hell, and disturbing because Will seems to be, you know, “pleasuring” himself as he’s going into the mind of this killer. Which makes sense because his job is to do that, but I’m guessing there would be some laws against that part. Maybe I read too much into it, but it sure looked like it.

Brown: That’s the dynamic that works really well for Petersen’s portrayal of Will Graham. You see him taking a certain sick pleasure in getting to think like a killer. He has that edge where he seems like he’s teetering between good and evil. Like when he visits with Lecktor in jail, Lecktor explains to him that the reason Graham caught him was because they are just alike. It’s the clichéd relationship of being two sides of the same coin, like Batman and Joker, but it does work in this instance.

Now that the name is brought up, what did you think of the use of Lecktor in this movie?

Froemming: To be honest, I like Cox’s performance over Hopkins’. There is something a little more sinister about Hannibal in this film. I also like that he is used sparsely, because as we have seen in other Hannibal movies, he is a character that can completely take over the film. What about you?

Brown: I don’t know if sinister is the word I’d use to describe Lecktor in this movie. In terms of evil, I think Hopkins has that down pat with his portrayal of the character (to be fair, by the time “Red Dragon” rolled around, you had two other movies to know about his Hannibal Lecter). With Cox as Lecktor, he’s a smarmy jerk. And I like him like that. He’s a genuinely more unlikable character because of it. He doesn’t feel like your intellectual superior like Anthony Hopkins. Instead, he seems like the kind of guy who’d brag about his Ivy League education to your face.

Also, he can hack phones with a stick of Doublemint gum, something I never saw Hopkins do. So, advantage: Cox.

Froemming: I see your point. Maybe it’s the bad taste in my mouth with all those other Hannibal movies after “Silence of the Lambs” that I no longer find Hopkins’ portrayal as enjoyable anymore.

But the scene between Lecter and Graham is pretty intense. That 80s synth becomes overwhelming and I sort of felt like I was having a panic attack along with Will. Which was pretty cool how the filmmaker did that. In fact, here is all three portrayals of that scene from “Manhunter,” “Red Dragon” and TV’s “Hannibal” which is pretty interesting to see how different actors pull off the part.

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Brown: I get why they did that, with Will running out of the jail cell, but man did that drag on. How many flights of stairs did Will have to run down before Michael Mann yelled “CUT”?

There are some parts with the “Will dives into the killer’s mind” idea that didn’t work for me. There’s a scene where Will explains to his son about when he had to be committed after catching Lecktor because in trying to emphasize and understand Lecktor drove him loony? It feels like a huge logical leap. Then when he tries to understand the “Tooth Fairy,” the way you know he’s doing it is because of slow closeups and saying “you son of a bitch” a lot.

Froemming: We are also taking about a movie based on a book that has a lot more information about Hannibal and Will’s relationship, which again, the show does way better than any of the films. Also, the infamous cereal aisle scene? How many brands did you see there as he is talking to his kid? My favorite: Mr. T cereal.

Brown: To put this scene in context, in order to get the “Tooth Fairy” out of hiding, Will and the FBI let a coded personal ad that Lecktor wrote to the killer that includes Will’s family address run in The Tattler, a tabloid much like the National Enquirer. So, Will moves his wife and son into a cottage in the woods and his wife Molly is worried that Will will make himself sick again chasing down the “Tooth Fairy.” So, they go grocery shopping and Will says a lot of stuff about his past, but I was definitely distracted by all the cereal boxes and Jell-o in the aisle they were shopping in. Knowing what I know now about Bill Cosby, all that Jell-o made me very uncomfortable.

Froemming: I suspect Kellogg’s funded a lot of the movie with that scene. But it didn’t take me out of the film too much. Let me just add one point about the film: It looked and sounded a lot like an episode of “Miami Vice,” and when I looked into Mann’s filmography, he did direct a whole bunch of episodes of that show.

Brown: I was taken aback when the son said to Will “Folgers, that’s the coffee you and mom like, right?” One thing that is more disturbing than the “Tooth Fairy” is the Graham family’s terrible taste in coffee.

Froemming: That was the biggest grievance I had with that scene. And Mann actually has some pretty impressive films under his belt, including “Heat.”

Brown: I really, really want to review “Heat” sometime, but I digress.

So Froemming, we’ve jumped around a bit, so I’ll let you do the honors of introducing our villain of the movie.

tooth-fairy-2

Froemming: Tom Noonan plays the “Tooth Fairy,” real name Francis Dollarhyde. And holy buckets is he creepy as hell. He looks like the love child of Brian Eno and Pete Hornberger from “30 Rock.” He plays the weird, creepy outsider nobody talks to to a T.

Brown: You don’t get a lot of time to really empathize with Francis, but in the glimpses you get to see of him, you can see his inner turmoil. He meets up with Reba (played by Joan Allen), a blind woman who works in the dark room of the film development center they both work at, and you can really see him coming apart at the seams as they grow closer. I love that this movie shows you this instead of needing a bunch of expository dialogue.

Froemming:  Totally. And the few scenes we get with him and Reba show both his vulnerability and his psychotic side. Like when he is watching those home movies of his victims as she sits next to him? That was so messed up, but again, it wasn’t over the top in my opinion.

Brown: Tom Noonan is a more believable serial killer than Joan Allen is as a blind woman. Her way of showing she’s blind is to look slightly askew away from the camera. And the character bugs me a lot because she falls for Francis way too quickly. Don’t trust, or sleep, with a man who won’t let you touch his face!

Froemming: Or have you stick your hand in a knocked out tiger’s mouth. What the hell was Francis’ buddy thinking there?

Brown: I didn’t even know if that vet was Francis’ friend. If I’m a zoo veterinarian, I’m not letting some gangly man and his blind lady friend into my operating room without some credentials.

Froemming: It almost felt like “Oh, that is just creepy Francis. We let him in here for no good reason. He seems nice though.”

Brown: I’m about to go on a little tangent here, but in things that make no sense in this movie to me, the measure of strength all the characters have is baffling. Francis is The Hulk. When he attacks the tabloid reporter in the parking lot, he palms the man’s face like a basketball and lifts him off his feet with one hand. When Francis is in his van waiting for Reba, he claws his leather upholstery and rips it apart no problem. Then when Will storms into his house at the climax, Francis tosses him aside like Andre the Giant facing off with a mini wrestler at Madison Square Garden. Will does this, too. He must have been a stud in gym class because he climbs up a rope swing with no issue. And, when he has a run-in with the tabloid reporter, he hip-tosses him onto the hood of a parked car, again, with no issue. I’m convinced everyone in this movie has the chemical Bane gets for his superpowers in the Batman comics.

Froemming: Let’s not forget, Francis gets shot a few times before he goes down. I get that he probably has adrenaline soaring through his veins, but come on. Also, Will just jumps through that window like he is Spider-Man.

Brown: OK, some bullet-point context: Francis and Reba are about to go out again and Francis actually seems at peace. But Francis sees Reba getting dropped off at her house by another co-worker, Francis imagines in his mind that they are making out, forcing him into a murderous rage (in reality, he was taking something out of her hair, I think). Then, Francis’ psychotic rage takes over and he’s about to make Reba his next victim. He sets up his sacrifice at his home, complete with “Scarface” wallpaper and “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” blasting from his stereo.

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Froemming: And at this point, Will has identified him as their suspect.

Brown: And Will does this with the help of Lt. Fisk, who played Barney in all three Hopkins “Hannibal” movies. We are through the looking glass, people.

Froemming: Honestly, at that point, I had no clue how Will knew his size, race and hair color. But they run it through the state’s DMV. And sure enough, it was their guy.

Brown: The climax of this movie, I got to say, it’s kind of anticlimactic. There’s a struggle between Will and Francis, but it all ends pretty quickly thanks to a clip of gun shots. I didn’t want to make comparisons between “Manhunter” and “Red Dragon,” but the ending in “Red Dragon” was a lot more satisfying.

Froemming: The ending felt rushed, that’s for sure. I haven’t seen “Red Dragon” yet, so I have nothing to offer there. Also, Will on the beach with his family as the credits roll was pretty cheesy.

Brown: Oh man, how did we go this long without mentioning the Graham family’s beachfront property? There is no way Will could afford a beachfront house on a cop’s salary, even if he is FBI. This is Florida circa 1986, so he’s selling drugs, right? There’s no other explanation.

Froemming: Yeah, it was really unbelievable. Yet, the movie doesn’t go into what Will is currently doing, but I’m sure it is not Miami beachfront money.

Brown: All we know about his present before Jack Crawford gets him out of retirement is he’s building fences around his part of the beach to help turtles reach the water. That and being with Molly, who has that same dirty perm mop-top haircut that every single 80s female lead had.

Froemming: She looked a lot like Glenn Close in “Fatal Attraction,” that’s for sure. Also, Will really loves those tiny pink shorts, he wears them in every beach scene.

Brown: There are parts of this movie that are painfully 80s that are fun to look back at now and snicker at. But at this point, I feel like anything else we say is nitpicking. It doesn’t take away from the fact that this movie is great. I think we’ve exhausted this one, so are you ready to call it, Froemming?

Froemming: Let’s go to recommendations. I feel like I have way over-thought this movie at this point.

Would You Recommend?:

Froemming: I definitely would. It is a creepy film that really has some impressive moments. Beyond some of the 80s cheese (which was a sign of the times, people), it does a good job of bringing you into this world and at times, Will Graham’s head. While not as good as “Silence of the Lambs,” this is way better than the other Hannibal movies I have seen.

Brown: Absolutely, yes. The whole thing gives you this feeling of uneasiness throughout and that’s the kind of thing I want to feel when I’m watching a murder drama. You can see these characters enter this twisted world, which is both fascinating and horrifying. From seeing both movies, I prefer this over “Red Dragon.”

Here is what’s coming up for the next Joe-Down: