Did you go silly for "Silence?" Get hung up on "Hannibal?" Rave over "Red Dragon?" Then journey back to the little-known "Manhunter," where "Hannibal Lecter's legacy of evil began" (says the box art). Before Jodie and Tony went toe-to-toe, before Julianne stood in for Jodie, and long before Ed came into the picture, Michael Mann further developed in this film, the prequel to "The Silence of the Lambs," the directorial name he'd already made for himself in 1971's "Thief" and the 1983's "The Keep."
The story, based on a novel by Thomas Harris, and which would be remade -- with a different ending -- into 2002's "Red Dragon," revolves around Will Graham, an FBI psychologist (CSI's William Peterson), who, having recently assisted in the capture of deranged psychiatrist Hannibal "The Cannibal" Lecktor (Brian Cox -- and yes, that's original spelling of Hannibal's surname), makes an attempt to take some time off from his emotionally draining profession. Graham is soon pulled back in, however, to help identify the troubled Francis Dollarhyde (Tom Noonan) as the brutal, home-invading killer known by the nickname, "The Tooth Fairy," who has already claimed the lives of several families. Can the killer be stopped before the body count rises any higher, or will he stop himself? Will Graham lose his sanity or even his life during the pursuit? And can Lecktor's influence be contained within the prison which houses him?
This is a gripping film, an excellent FBI procedural, and viewers are guaranteed to remember it for years. Mann seemed to repeat himself a bit in later years-- the recycling of themes, and even dialogue, between 1995's "Heat" and 2009's "Public Enemies," for instance, is glaring (for those who've watched them back-to-back, anyway) -- but in "Manhunter," his talents were clearly coming into full bloom. Phenomenal use of color and sound here, and a much more understated and "artsy" style than its somewhat bombastic remake (though Jet staff's opinions are split on this point). Worth a look for sure, but prepare yourself for some shocks!