For many, the infamous name of Hannibal Lecter will forever be synonymous with the performance of Sir Anthony Hopkins in Jonathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs (1991). However, one of the big screen’s most notorious villains was first portrayed by fellow Brit Brian Cox in Michael Mann’s Manhunter (1986), which also stars William Petersen, Kim Greist and Joan Allen.
Manhunter was the first adaptation of Thomas Harris’ novel Red Dragon, with Brett Ratner having later had a stab at the original text in 2002. In contrast to the subsequent portrayals of Lecter, Mann and Cox attempted to bring a greater element of realism to the character, as opposed to the more charismatic and enigmatic offering from Hopkins. Although this may sound like an intriguing approach on paper, the absence of Hopkins’ unmistakable presence was of huge detriment to the film as a whole.
Aside from the rather unremarkable performance of Cox as Dr. Lecter, one of the biggest issues throughout the entire movie is the staggeringly abysmal soundtrack. Considering the levels of realism employed with regards the film’s appearance, it beggars belief that such a soundtrack could ever have been created. Anyone familiar with cult TV series Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace will know what I’m talking about. Each and every time the tension looks set to be cranked up, the atmosphere is shattered, often to humorous effect.
Equally disappointing is the overall level of performance from the key cast members. With the exception of the superb Tom Noonan, whose turn as the evil Francis Dollarhyde is unquestionably Manhunter’s stand-out feature, the rest of the performances are – at best – underwhelming. Peterson is particularly hammy and unconvincing in equal measures as Will Graham, whilst Cox fails to bring any of the enigmatic qualities to the role that Hopkins managed so effortlessly.
In each and every department, Manhunter fails to match the qualities evident in all three of the latter Lecter movies. Despite their own inadequacies, particularly evident in Ridley Scott’s heavily-flawed Hannibal (2001), it is undeniable that all three of the Hopkins Hannibal trilogy offer far more in the way of substance, atmosphere and performance than Mann’s effort.