There comes a time in every critic’s life where they must choose their head over their heart. The facts and the films must both be weighed up logically and the critic must decide using their intelligence and the films that make her weep for joy. I had already demonstrated this on my own website where I picked Life of Brian over The Holy Grail. But this decision is damn near killing me. You see The Silence of the Lambs has been my favourite film since I was about 13 and I can quote the whole movie word for word. If you wanted, right now, I could do the Hannibal Lector Monologue. Even if you didn’t want to, I’d still do it. Usually, I’d argue why Anthony Hopkins is better than Brian Cox with an air of obnoxiousness. But after re-watching both films, I have to concede and it is with the heaviest of hearts that I must say; Manhunter is a better movie. Sigh.
Michael Mann’s movie on first release panned at box office for being “too stylish” and “overkill.” Receiving reviews from mixed to negative, it was forgotten the minute Jonathan Demme’s Silence of the Lambs came out with awe and appreciation. However, with Brett Ratner’s (shudders) remake of Manhunter, Red Dragon, many have gone back in time to unearth this gem and hail it for the great movie it actually is.
Manhunter is a brilliant movie that Mann has filled with style, themes and more. Cutting the film with a slice of Miami Vice slickness, Mann has brilliantly captured a brutal story with artistic intentions. Famously, Mann contrasts the lazy sleepy love a family secluded by the beach with the harsh underbelly of a murderous town using colours; blue for the prior and green for the later. This gives the audience a taste of the emotion within the scenes without saying anything. Add this to the art deco that Mann injected to his sets and the movie is thrive with beautiful meaning and captures the Eighties in a non-clichéd way. The use of colour is still highly regarded by critics today.
And now I am going to say it, Brian Cox was truly legendary as Hannibal Leckter. Don’t get me wrong, Anthony Hopkins was genius in Silence and his voice will haunt many a peoples dreams. But compare him in Red Dragon to Cox in Manhunter and you can see the difference. Cox, much younger than Hopkins, is much more powerful and manic. Brian Cox’s voice is utterly terrifying; treading between quietly menacing and taunting to booming. Cox gets into your head much more effectively and is a greater portrayal of the Doctor, far truer to how scary Lector is in the books and less the teddy bear that Hopkins was.
What I am NOT saying with all this is that Silence of the Lambs should be utterly dismissed because Michael Mann did a better job. Demme’s work still holds up with the populous and is still one of the greatest films of all time with a sterling job by Foster and Hopkins. And of course, Manhunter and Silence of the Lambs are two different stories with similar themes so you have to separate them a bit when you compare. Yet due to the success of Lambs and the fact the world eschewed Manhunter with a harsh hand isn’t fair. Manhunter is gradually getting its deserved status but it should have been recognised for its brilliance early. Manhunter is by far more chilling and suspenseful than its predecessor, it should be celebrated as such.