Manhunter (1986) Movie Review

By: Movie Snurb (A Toast) –

Manhunter is the adaptation of the book Red Dragon by Thomas Harris. Yes, Red Dragon was made into a film in 2002, but it was originally adapted in 1986 by Michael Mann, and I can say it’s absolutely the superior adaptation. Will Graham (William Petersen) is a retired FBI Agent who, after capturing Hannibal Lecter (Brian Cox), felt he was not right mentally and decided to retire. He’s pulled out of retirement to help capture a sinister serial killer with the moniker “The Tooth Fairy” (Tom Noonan).  The Tooth Fairy is killing during every full moon and they have just days to stop him in time. Will Graham is an expert profiler- almost too good to a point where he struggles with his mental well-being from getting in the heads of these killers. Can Will Graham find The Tooth Fairy and will he need help from Hannibal Lecter to find him?

A Toast

Michael Mann is definitely a style-heavy director but, where he succeeds and other directors like Zack Snyder falter is with the story and writing. Mann’s ability to write incredibly taut thrillers is his master skill. There are multiple scenes in this film that will put you on the edge of your seat, whether it’s Graham and Lecter talking or the climax of the film. Even the scene between the douche reporter and Francis Dollarhyde AKA “The Tooth Fairy”… really any scene with Dollarhyde will put the audience at unease and on the edge of their seat. Mann is a master director and it amazes me he still hasn’t won a Best Director Oscar.

All of the performances in this film are brilliant. William Petersen should’ve came out of Manhunter a household name and not taken until CSI to became a huge star. We can feel everything Graham is feeling; every emotion, every momentary thought he has shoots right through the audience. His scene when he figures out how “The Tooth Fairy” finds his victims and gains access to their homes will give you goosebumps. It’s an amazing moment and made even greater by the powerful performance of Petersen.  The audience gets to piece it together with Graham and makes that scene so much more impactful.

The other revelation in the film is Tom Noonan as Francis Dollarhyde, AKA “The Tooth Fairy.” His ability to remain calm and talk at an almost monotone level is completely unnerving. Mix in that towards the end he begins to fall for a woman who takes an interest in him and it makes his performance that much more masterful. It brings so much complexity to Dollarhyde that his potential normalcy is terrifying. This takes us to the greatest scene in the film in my opinion, when he is waiting for Reba (Joan Allen), the woman that begins to like him, and he believes that she doesn’t like him. Watching Dollarhyde go through the struggle between killing her and knowing that he’s just overthinking it is a brilliant moment to watch.

Not only is this scene great, but it’s made greater by the fact that every scene Noonan has there is no music, emphasizing the killer and making his scenes terrifying. I don’t understand how Tom Noonan wasn’t immediately cast in every film as the bad guy. He really should’ve had a massive career playing villains; Manhunter proves that Tom Noonan and William Petersen deserved to be massive stars.

Also, Brian Cox as Hannibal Lecter. It’s a shame Anthony Hopkins gave such a great performance as Lecter, because Brian Cox will always be second best, yes, rightfully so, but Cox is still amazing as Hannibal Lecter and Manhunter isn’t weighed down with Lecter moments like Red Dragon because Cox wasn’t solidified as a great villain beforehand. This gives Manhunter more time to focus on the story and not a secondary character.


Manhunter is one of Michael Mann’s best films in a career of brilliant films. The performances of all the actors are brilliant, including William Petersen, Tom Noonan, and Brian Cox.  Its dream sequences, music moments, and writing/directing is masterful. It’s truly one film everyone should see, especially if they’re fans of The Silence of the Lambs.

Manhunter (1986) Drinking Game

Do a Shot: for every dream sequence.

Do a Shot: for every unnerving moment with “The Tooth Fairy”

Take a Drink: every time Will Graham loses his cool.

Do a Shot: for every murder in the film.

Pound a Beer: because this film is awesomely 80’s.

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