September 20, 2007
I think I’ve lost count how many different DVD incarnations there of Michael Mann’s film, Manhunter (1986). Anchor Bay released a superb Limited Edition Director’s Cut and then one without many of the extras. Then, they released a Michael Mann’s Restored Director’s Cut which included a commentary by the director. Now, the rights have been scooped up by MGM and they’ve released their own edition with no extras and in pan and scanned and widescreen versions. For completists, this is your chance to finally get the theatrical version on Region 1 DVD.
Profiler Will Graham (Petersen) reluctantly comes out of retirement to track down Francis Dolarhyde (Noonan), a man who slaughters whole families to fulfill his own power fantasies. Graham is able to pursue the killer by thinking and dreaming as he imagines the killer does. However, the last time he tried this technique it pushed him to sanity’s edge. The case involved a cunning psychiatrist named Hannibal Lecktor (Cox) who viciously killed his patients, scarring Graham both physically and emotionally. Now Graham must make the dangerous journey back into the mind of a killer to catch him before he kills again.
Mann is less interested in depicting the actual killings (the main attraction of this genre when it became popular) than in the cerebral and actual process required in getting into the killer’s frame of mind and tracking him down. Manhunter explores the conflict of the individual versus their desire to preserve their family. Graham is a consummate professional, the best at what he does – profiling serial killers. While he keeps in the tradition of Mann’s intensely professional protagonists who are the best at what they do, he is also one his most layered characters. There is much more to Graham than a driven investigator. He is also an extremely sensitive person who is compelled to do what he does out of a need to save others from being brutally murdered.
Mann is fascinated by various means of communication. Part of this has to do with the investigation process (for example, the many phone calls between law enforcement professionals) and also with Graham’s method of projecting himself into the killer’s mind. After talking to Molly on the phone late at night, Graham figures out that the killer’s motivation lies in his dreams. He reaches this conclusion while watching home movies of the dead families on his hotel room television.
This is further elaborated in a wonderful scene between Graham and his son that features some of Mann’s best writing. It provides fascinating insight into Graham’s past and his special ability. It is also a nice scene between a father and his son. It takes place in an every day setting—a grocery store—but they are talking about extraordinary things. Kevin tries to understand what his father does and Graham explains how he caught Lecktor: “I tried to build feelings in my imagination the killer had so that I would know why he did what he did.” This scene beautifully underlines the danger that Graham faces. He runs the risk of hurting himself physically and mentally again. It also shows that he is able to compartmentalize his thoughts and his feelings. He recognizes that the thoughts of killing and hurting people are wrong where Lecktor and Dollarhyde do not. And that is what separates Graham from them.
Good news for fans, this version is the theatrical one which restores the scene between Graham and Crawford where they talk about what motivates and creates monsters like Dollarhyde and includes a monologue, delivered by Petersen, about the duality that exists within Dollarhyde. “My heart bleeds for him as a child. Someone took a kid and manufactured a monster. At the same time as an adult, he’s irredeemable. He butchers whole families to pursue trivial fantasies. As an adult someone should blow the sick fuck out of his socks. Do you think that’s a contradiction, Jack? Does this kind of understanding make you uncomfortable, Jack?” It is a disturbing monologue, delivered with scary vigor by Petersen. This scene is the heart of darkness in the film and was conspicuously absent from previous special edition versions.
Manhunter was dumped into cinematic limbo after the De Laurentiis Entertainment Group declared bankruptcy. It was released theatrically on August 15, 1986 on 779 screens and only grossed $8.62 million. However, Mann’s film has survived on video and cable television as evident from the numerous incarnations that now exist.