True story... except that I never volunteered at a homeless shelter, and that I was the idiot who removed the labels from the cans, and that it took my mother to point out that this was change for the sake of change and didn't do a bit of good to anyone. To be fair... I was twelve years old, and it was 1986. So as a group of poor folks ate Chili Con Carne with Pumpkin Pie filling in it, I was learning a most disturbing truth about Mankind.
What's the point?
Oh, wait... there is no point.
And here we all thought the biggest hindsight adjustment would be dealing with Brian Cox as Hannibal Lecter (here spelled "Lektor" because Mann and De Laurentiis felt like it). Interestingly enough, Cox isn't the problem, and, while he's certainly no Hopkins, he's not so bad. Much less impressive, and a little more British than expected, but he pulls it off okay.
For those unfamiliar with Red Dragon, this is the story of Will Graham (William L. Petersen, seeming exactly like his latter-day CSI character). Will is calmly relaxing in retirement with his wife and son after capturing "Hannibal the Cannibal" and having quite enough of this FBI Life, thank you very much. However, when a new and shocking Serial Killer called "The Tooth Fairy" starts preying on entire families, Graham's former partner, Jack Crawford (Dennis Farina) persuades the best Bureau Profiler before Fox Mulder and Samantha Waters to re-enter the fold and spank some sociopath ass!
Meanwhile the Tooth Fairy AKA Francis Dolarhyde AKA Red Dragon before the becoming (played with a lumbering dorkiness by Robocop 2's Tom Noonan) is planning his next move... and falling in love with a blind woman (Joan Allen's Reba McClane, who would have to be blind).
What follows is exactly what the title suggests, a man hunt with Will Graham at the forefront, scowling and playing with Forensic Evidence like a proto-CSI!
The most striking thing about this film, with or without having first read the novel, is how thoroughly Krazy-Glued to the mid-1980's it truly, truly is. Mann and company, seem to have scoped out every single gaudy, "post-modern", pseudo-deco piece of architecture on the planet to film against. The mental hospital "Lektor" is committed to is actually the High Museum of Art in Atlanta. Now, I haven't spent all that much time in forced psychotherapy, but I find it hard to believe that anything of the sort would look quite this cool. That goes triple for Dolarhyde's incredibly elaborate bachelor pad in the woods, exchanged for the novel's converted old folks home. Man, no wonder Francis got the girl... with a place like that to take her back to, he's a winner!
Of course the Architecture has to compete with the clothes in this film... I had to wear earplugs, the suits were so loud. But, let's remember, Michael Mann is the guy who brought us Miami Vice (which was only in its second year when this movie came out). Speaking of earplugs, you'll want to have a pair ready for the nonstop Synth-infused electronic score, which, as heard from 20 years in the future, is cheesier than an appetizer in a Mexican restaurant.
The script itself feels like an obligatory exposition of a checklist from the book's plot, limply taped together as best as it can be. In the first half, Mann remains a loyal adapter and seems to respect Harris' work. However, about halfway through (either by his design, or Dino's), the scotch tape begins to yellow and crack and the plot crumbles beneath its own weight. In fact, many of the same things happen as do in the novel, but there seem to be no reason or explanation for the hows and whys.
Noonan's one dimensional portrayal of Francis Dolarhyde, the killer, inspires much less fear than it does comedy (this is the real revenge of the nerd), and Mann displays Dolayrhyde's relationship with Reba as a rapid fire escalation that could have taken place in a single day. Realism is sacrificed for expedience, and there is no suggestion of just how creepy old Dolarhyde managed to charm this winner of a woman.
Mann's opening accuracy gives way to the surprise of what he's changed, simply to have changed it. Is it of benefit to anyone that Will's stepson's name is changed from "Willy" to "Kevin"? Does it serve any purpose to portray Lecter (or "Lektor") as having preyed upon College Girls (only one of whom was a patient) instead of uncouth male patients and colleagues? Could they not get the rights to the actual "The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed in Sun", or was it just not dramatic enough to keep them from using a cheesy misrepresentation of William Blake? Is there any good thing about changing the ending to showcase Petersen's capabilities as an Action Hero? Was Mann attempting to make Manhunter into "MANNhunter"?
Still, when Mann gets it right, he gets it right, and there are a few satisfying jewels in the rough of this film. All told, they're still not enough to raise Manhunter above Two and one half stars out of five. So, if you ever wondered what The Silence of the Lambs might look like coming from the producer of Dune, but with a Miami Vice Attitude, you're in luck, Manhunter is just waiting for you to rent it and pan it. There are those who swear by the superiority of Manhunter, and stand by it as one of the best films of its kind. To those, I have some Chili Con Carne with Pumpkin Pie filling in it to offer you. Until then, I'll see you in the next reel... until Mann and Dino De Laurentiis change that for me!
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