Watching "Manhunter" now, over twenty five years since its release there is as a problem as you end up comparing to it to the more recent version of the Thomas Harris story and even if you haven't seen that version you will most likely find yourself comparing Brian Cox as Hannibal Lecktor to Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter. Because of this you end up being distracted from the actual storyline and Michael Mann's approach to the story which in fairness with this being a product of the 80s is now a little dated. And that is a shame because "Manhunter" is a well put together thriller, sucking you in to the drama of trying to uncover who the serial killer is before he strikes again.
After being the man to capture Dr. Hannibal Lecktor (Brian Cox - RED), Will Graham (William Petersen) imposes self retirement on himself after being physically and emotionally scarred by the encounter. But Will gets approached by FBI boss Jack Crawford (Dennis Farina - What Happens in Vegas) who needs his help as they have another serial killer they are struggling to catch. Reluctantly Will agrees and calls upon the imprisoned Lecktor for his help in getting into the mind of the serial killer. But in doing so it pushes Will to the edge especially with time running out before the new killer is going to strike again.
In truth "Manhunter" is not the most complex of thrillers and stripped back is basically Will Graham using his skills as an investigator to pick up on the small details to solve who the serial killer is before they strike again. We actually learn who the killer is before the half way point which reinforces the fact this is a movie which is all about Will and how being back on the job pushes him to his limits.
But whilst basically a simple movie it works because it does have various layers none more so than when Will decides to call on Lecktor and can feel the killer getting into his head. And to be honest Will's observational skills also make it entertaining none more so when he picks up on the smallest details such as talc residue from latex gloves on a victim's thigh. It is this which keeps you engrossed as you watch his skills come together whilst he becomes too involved and desperate. And it certainly helps watching "Manhunter" now because unsurprisingly for a movie from the 80s it is now a little dated none more so in the 80s soundtrack which personally is a little too prominent for my liking.
But as I mentioned the trouble with watching "Manhunter" now is that you compare it with the more recent version and especially Brian Cox's portrayal of Lecktor compared to Hopkins' version of Lecter. Now I like what Brian Cox does as Lecktor because in look he looks like he could have been a thug on the streets of London, he has that sort of tough face but speaks as if he is educated and Cox conveys the slyness of Lecktor's words, the constant probing for information. In fact whilst I love what Hopkins did with his version of Lecter it was more over the top whilst Cox keeps his version rawer and unsettlingly real.
Ironically Lecktor isn't the focus of "Manhunter", that is William Petersen as Will Graham and Petersen delivers an intriguing performance of someone who seems to relish the challenge but at the same time hates the challenge of solving the crime. And watching Petersen make Graham increasingly desperate is marvellous acting, never over acting but emoting that slight sense that he is close to being pushed over the edge.
What this all boils down to is that "Manhunter" is still a good thriller and a good early version of a Thomas Harris story. Of course it is now dated and you end up comparing it to the more recent versions but it still manages to get you gripped by the evolving drama.