Manhunter (1986) (R)

The obvious film that you can liken "Manhunter" to is "The Silence of the Lambs" with very good reason. "Manhunter" is the prequel to "Silence" and is part of Thomas Harris' series on FBI agents and insane inmates. The book was called Red Dragon which makes a lot of sense because of things that happen in the movie, in fact the book was remade into the movie "Red Dragon" with Anthony Hopkins reprising his role as the infamous doctor.
Here again—of here before, as the case may demand—Hollywood proves that audiences love a good psychopath and none is better in "Manhunter" than Brian Cox as the infamous Dr. Lecktor. He isn't Anthony Hopkins, but he is a much more chilling representation of the man. We never see Hopkins' portrayal fail, he always wins at whatever he wants, Cox's Dr. Lecktor (this is partly due to the script) doesn't always win, but he almost always gets his way. He's nonchalant and uncaring, more of a jokester than anything else; but he is great.
"Manhunter" follows the life of Will Graham (William Petersen) as he tries to track down the killer that pop culture has cutely nicknamed "Tooth Fairy". After brutally murdering two families in grotesque and puzzlingly unexplained ways, this serial killer is still at large and bound to strike again.
Will Graham is the ex-FBI agent who captured Dr. Lecktor and is need of a little therapy. The reason that he is so good at his job is because he can put himself into the mind of the killer. Becoming a psychopath is not good for your mental health and after a period in the psych ward of a hospital, he decides that he is done with his agent work.
That is...until this case comes along. An old partner of his shows up with pictures of the two families that Tooth Fairy killed, and Graham is unable to resist getting justice for them. Maybe he just gets off on detective work; but for all reasons apparent to the viewer, Graham is a little unstable and Petersen doesn't bring enough severity or dedication to the already crumbling character. Graham talks to himself and to the killer, he wants to know the answer to questions so he just speaks them aloud. This would have worked better as a voice-over, but Petersen is seen mumbling to himself, getting angrier and's a little awkward.
The film is asking the question: what cost? Graham is going to be wounded by this experience, anyone can see that, so what is the cost of him going ahead and capturing Tooth Fairy?
Desperate to stop the next killing from happening—they appear to take place on the full moon—Graham revisits his old buddy Dr. Lecktor who decides to place a horse in the race.
One thing that the film does do, though it's glossed over a few times, is suggest that insane people aren't born insane, rather they have insanity thrust upon them by their childhood. It's nature versus nurture, and completely unnecessary.
The movie's first half is terrific, high-action and nail biting suspense. The second half, not so much. There are many things left unexplained by the ending. The first crime scene still has oddities that are never figured out, which is fine if you're shooting for an ambiguous cap thriller like "Zodiac"; but "Manhunter" wants to appease its audiences, yet it doesn't.
Once we finally see the killer (in comparison it was Ted Levine as Buffalo Bill in "The Silence of the Lambs") it's kind of a let down. He's not nearly creepy enough and his actions just make us uninvolved with the plot.
"Manhunter" is great in moments when Brian Cox is involved and Petersen isn't speaking; but those moments are few. The rest is eaten up by a pop-pscyhedellic mess of a film, punctuated with an odd and useless soundtrack.
It's entertaining yes, but then again so is "The Fugitive", so why not just watch that instead?

Score: ★★½

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