Manhunter (1986)

7.0 Overall Score
Story: 9/10
Acting: 7/10
Visuals: 6/10

Strong detective story, Tom Noonan

So-so acting and dated, cheap look

Movie Info

Movie Name:  Manhunter

Studio:  De Laurentiis Entertainment Group

Genre(s):  Mystery/Suspense

Release Date(s):  August 15, 1986

MPAA Rating:  R


So I’m thinking of going after a psycho…that ok with you?

A killer nicknamed the Tooth Fairy (Tom Noonan) is attacking and murdering families.  The only hope for Jack Crawford (Dennis Farina) rests in Will Graham (William Petersen) who left the bureau after the capture of a killer named Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lecktor (Brian Cox) and a mental breakdown.  For Graham to get close and capture the killer, he must think like the killer.  As Graham tries to reach into the mind of the Tooth Fairy, he finds himself slipping into his old darkness, and the Tooth Fairy is getting ready to kill again.


Flame on!!!

Directed by Michael Mann, Manhunter is an adaptation of Thomas Harris’ 1981 novel Red Dragon.  The movie was a sleeper hit and became more popular after the release of the Academy Award winning The Silence of the Lambs which recast Hannibal Lecter with Anthony Hopkins.

Manhunter is a cult favorite, but I have to say I’m not a huge fan.  I find the movie has a lot of problems and just isn’t as compelling or thrilling as the second adaption Red Dragon with Edward Norton in the starring role.  Manhunter isn’t a bad movie, but it also isn’t a great movie.


Ma’am, you’re invading the tiger’s personal space at this point

The story is pretty solid and that is carried over into the other versions of the story.  You have a creepy killer, a detective pushed to the limit, and a number of characters caught in the middle.  It is a smart, modern detective tale and you can see shows like CSI and even Law & Order borrowing from the story’s grittier format.

I will say that the acting is part of the problem and it is tied mostly to the actual script (not the story).  You get William Petersen hamming it up by saying lines which probably should be internal monologue out loud and the speeches find pompous and unnatural “You took off your gloves!!!!”  I think Farina is a decent Jack Crawford but other Crawfords who have followed him maybe played the role better.  I will also say that Stephen Lang is awful as Freddy Lounds…he is way over the top.  What does work is Tom Noonan as the creepy Tooth Fairy.  I like Ralph Fiennes (who put it all out there in Red Dragon), but Noonan is a good (possibly better), creepy version of the character…who goes out a bit like a chump.


A sequel…am I in it?!?! Anthony Hopkins…awe crap…

Most memorable aspect of this film is of course the first film appearance of Hannibal Lecktor.  With his name spelled with a k in it, Hannibal is played by Brian Cox in a role that helped gain him some early attention (John Lithgow, Brian Dennehy, and Mandy Patinkin were also considered for the role).  Cox is not a bad Hannibal and much more controlled than Hopkins.  For a while Brian Cox was just the guy called “the other Hannibal” before growing into his own in more recent roles.


Nope…I’m perfectly normal…you?

The big problem with Manhunter is I think it looks and sounds awful.  The music for the movie is this bad electric sounding theme that is overused and the film has a really cheap look to it.  I know that Michael Mann is a good director, and I like some of the framing and shot set-ups, but I just don’t like the low budget look of the film.

I can see why some are fans of Manhunter, but I’m not one of them.  I don’t think it is a bad movie, but I can’t laud it with praise like many do.  I just find it rather average and now dated.  If you have to choose between Manhunter and Red Dragon (or the new Hannibal series which covers some of the same ground) I would probably put Manhunter last.  I know this is a bit of heresy, but this is one film I can’t get into like others.

Related Links:

The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Hannibal (2001)

Red Dragon (2002)

Hannibal Rising (2007)

Hannibal—Season 1 Review and Complete Episode Guide

Hannibal—Season 2 Review and Complete Episode Guide

Hannibal—Season 3 Review and Complete Episode Guide

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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