Monday, March 9, 2009

Film Review: MANHUNTER (1986, Michael Mann)

Stars: 5 of 5.
Running Time: 124 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: William L. Peterson (TO LIVE AND DIE IN L.A., C.S.I.), Brian Cox, Kim Griest (BRAZIL), Stephen Lang (TOMBSTONE, LAST EXIT TO BROOKLYN), Tom Noonan (LAST ACTION HERO, SYNECDOCHE, NY), Brian Cox (L.I.E., BRAVEHEART, RUSHMORE), Joan Allen (FACE/OFF, PLEASANTVILLE, THE ICE STORM, NIXON), Dino de Laurentiis, Thomas Harris, Dante Spinotti (multi-Oscar nominated cinematographer of everything from L.A. CONFIDENTIAL to THE INSIDER to HUDSON HAWK).
Tag-lines: "It's just you and me now, sport..." (possibly the greatest tag-line of all-time?)
Best one-liner(s): "And if one does what God does enough times, one will become as God is."

MANHUNTER is order and disorder. Geometry and chaos. It's steel bars and sheet glass windows and buildings wrapped in concrete. It's cool blue nights, shimmering amber waves, and foreboding forest glens.

Michael Mann creates the world of a man who hunts serial killers by logically absorbing their thought processes, and not for one second is this the corny cheesefest such a statement would ordinarily precede. Mann uses symmetrical compositions, rack focuses, tinted lenses, and naturalistic acting to create his macabre atmosphere. This is a master of the cinematic medium at the height of his powers. The story unfolds with subtlety and grace, like the best of Jean-Pierre Melville or Sidney Lumet. There are no "Hollywood scares" here, no obnoxious sonic stingers- it's a quotidian terror. The performances are brilliant:

William L. Peterson as the investigator, coming straight off of the excellent TO LIVE AND DIE IN L.A.;

Tom Noonan as the terrifyingly low-key 'Tooth Fairy;' Joan Allen as a naive blind co-worker; and Brian Cox as the first cinematic incarnation of Hannibal Lecktor (Yep, that's how it's spelled here). The film is sprinkled with realistic, true-hearted touches: a little girl on a plane panics when she sees the crime scene photos Peterson has fallen asleep to; cops talk like cops, not like TV-writer mouthpieces; and Mann doesn't just tell you about Lecktor's intellect, he SHOWS you, lets him speak and act and think for himself. MANHUNTER just goes to show you that an American director CAN make a 'mainstream' genre picture without sacrificing personal style, dumbing down the material, or pandering to the masses. Why can't they all be like this?

-Sean Gill

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