Release Year: 1986
Director: Michael Mann
Writers: Michael Mann (screenplay), Thomas Harris (based on his 1981 novel Red Dragon)
Starring: William Petersen, Tom Noonan, Brian Cox, Joan Allen, Kim Greist, Dennis Farina, Stephen Lang, David Seaman, Benjamin Hendrickson, Michael Talbott, Dan Butler
Former FBI agent Will Graham (William Petersen) reluctant returns to the service to help catch the serial killer whom the media have named “The Tooth Fairy”.
Michael Mann’s adaptation of Thomas Harris’s psychological thriller Red Dragon almost seems redundant now after three adaptations starring Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter, the figure that looms over the whole trilogy. In this first film he is only a supporting character, appearing only in a few scenes when former FBI agent Will Graham is forced to consult him. Graham was the one who locked him up and his haunted by the man, much to Dr. Lecter’s pleasure. Hopkins’s performance has long overshadowed Brian Cox’s earlier take on Lecter, but Cox delivers an interesting version in its own right. But the real villain of Manhunter is the serial killer “The Tooth Fairy”, eerily portrayed by a towering Tom Noonan (The Monster Squad, 1987). Petersen (Young Guns 2, 1990) does the balancing act of Graham really well, one that is sometimes taken too much into trauma territory by other who will remains unnamed. Finally, Mann (The Insider, 1999) knows his craft and demonstrates in very well here. Manhunter is a well-acted and technically great thriller, it’s only major downside is the insistent score which is 1980s on full blast. If you manage not to get distracted by it, you are left with a classic thriller that does not rival The Silence of the Lambs (1991) but does rival its own remake Red Dragon (2002).
The film was originally meant to be titled Red Dragon like the Thomas Harris novel, however since Year of the Dragon (1985) was a failure at the box office, they wanted to avoid any association by having the word “dragon” in the title.