• Michael Mann’s Manhunter confirms the promise of 1981’s Thief. It makes him one of the most exciting cinematic voices to emerge from the 1980s.

The opening is a marvelous shot—Mann starts with the blue sky, and tilts the camera down to Dennis Farina (as Jack Crawford) on the right facing the beach, and a sun-kissed William Petersen (lead, as Will Graham) facing the camera on the left. We have a great camera movement and character blocking right there in the first shot.

The film’s greatest single frame may actually be the shot of Kim Greist (as Will’s wife Molly- quite a run for Greist after Brazil in 1985) on the left with Farina on the right at the 6-minute mark—silhouette and bars designing the frame.

  • The blue day for night shot in the bed with a wall of windows just after that shot.
  • Manhunter is Thomas Harris’ novel “Red Dragon”—and the first appearance of Dr. Hannibal Lecktor (no idea why the change on the name here for this one film). For Mann’s film (five years prior to Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs) Brian Cox plays Hannibal. There’ is no way getting around it, Cox’s work does not measure up to Anthony Hopkins. The focus of the film is different, Cox is here at the 23-28 minute mark, a few minutes on the phone later.
  • Mann’s first film with Dante Spinotti as cinematographer—Mann’s best work would be with Spinotti and he is probably his key collaborator.

Will Graham is a tortured soul, talented… and there is much brooding in Petersen’s performance. He is an artist and maybe a Mann surrogate. His milieu, (just like Mann’s) is crime. The here feels like a direct line to Melville- this could be Delon in Le Samouraï,

  • A focus here from Mann on the color green – green titles, green blinds in the Atlanta office, the dark room with the green hue where Joan Allen’s character and Tom Noonan’s charter meet, Allen’s character has an entirely green door, the green backdrop in the brainstorming session in Washington.

a dedication to a color palette as part of the mise-en-scene.

another example here outside of the half-dozen mentioned above

In Washington, at the 55- minute mark, there is a stunner of a frame with the triangulation of lights bouncing off the ground as he would often do in Thief.

  • The entire cast deserves applause (Stephan Lang is in here too)- but the 2002 film Red Dragon by Brett Ratner would have a stronger one— but this film here in 1986 is vastly superior, to show you once again that auteur cinema dominates- Ratner is no Michael Mann. DP Dante Spinotti shot both and Ratner’s film doesn’t look like this at all.

At the 87-minute mark there is a magic hour sunrise shot of Allen’s character with Noonan’s character again as Mann’s camera slowly zooms over.

silhouette character blocking– and a shot that pairs with the one above

  • At the 92-minute there is a quick double-dolly (Spike’s trademark shot- but not yet in 1986)
  • Mann is building to a climatic confrontation of good and evil again (accompanied here, brilliantly with “IN-A-GADDA-DA-VIDA” Performed by Iron Butterfly), and again he uses slow-motion – there’s a fabulous glass breaking shot here.

A strong frame in the aftermath as the Red Dragon has finally arrived in death- a pool of blood making for wings in the background right with mint green table foreground left

  • A Must-See film top five of the year quality film