The interesting thing about Manhunter (1986) is that it’s a movie based on a Thomas Harris movie, created by an auteur director. The basic nature of being an auteur filmmaker (total creative control) collides with working on a project already written by someone else.
While Silence of the Lambs is the iconic one, Manhunter is the first film to feature the fictional serial killer Hannibal Lecter. Changed to ‘Lecktor’ in the movie for no known reason. The story follows Will Graham, a brilliant FBI criminal profiler as he struggles to hunt down ‘the tooth fairy’, a brutal serial killer on the loose. The killer strikes periodically, putting Will in a time restraint before he strikes again.
Michael Mann movies take a long time to make and he describes himself as a perfectionist. These are good indicators of an auteur filmmaker.
Mann’s most distinctive characteristics are his visuals. He’s seemingly obsessed with lights, creating beautiful images out of ordinary environments.
Michael Mann’s Thief (1981)
The way he uses music is also quite unique. Nowadays, music is often created specifically to be meant as the background, taking no attention from the visuals. Mann uses music to elevate a scene. In Manhunter, Will Graham finds out the whereabouts of the killer in his office. He’s in a different state as the killer, there’s no danger and he is surrounded by police. On paper, there’s nothing exciting. With the music, it becomes the ultimate triumph of the movie. In some scenes, he may have gone too far. There’s a sequence where the killer stalks his new victim, which feels almost like a music video. Mann also used music in his iconic show Miami Vice. The scene most admired by fans is of the main characters cruising Miami during the night in their slick black ferrari. Again, nothing interesting happens, but Phil Collins’ In the Air Tonight makes this the most famous scene of the entire show.
All Mann’s movies feel very observational. As an audience you are essentially a fly on the wall, peeking into the lives of characters you would have never met in real life. These can be serial killers, prisoners, professional bank robbers, hackers or even a Mohican chief.
Thomas Harris let the studio adapt his novel again, thus we got to see Red Dragon. This time made as a prequel to Silence of the Lambs, the movie is directed by Brett Ratner.
Ratner is credited with fairly good movies, however he is considered to be a studio yes-man by many of his followers.
Having two stories, one made by an auteur filmmaker and one made with the director playing it safely, gives us a unique chance to appreciate Mann’s talents.