“SIlence Of The Lambs” is undoubtedly one of the high water marks for film in the early 1990’s.A lot of theater goer’s at the time however might not have known that this was the second adaptation of Thomas Harris’ infamous Hannibal Lecter. In 1986 director Michael Mann released “Manhunter”, based on Harris’ book “Red Dragon”. Although not a huge success at the box office upon release, in recent years it’s gained more acclaim from critics and fans alike.”Red Dragon” would be adapted for the screen in 2002 under the same title as the original text.
Dragon was better received this time around, Most likely due to audiences familiarity with Anthony Hopkins portrayal of Lecter over 10 years earlieras well as the acclaimed cast of Ed Norton,Harvey Keitel,Ralph Fiennes and Phillip Seymour Hoffman.Now while this is a solid group of actors, I must be completely honest: I feel Manhunter has a better fit cast for the story.
First of all, Will Graham is portrayed in Manhunter by William Petersen, and his performance is a lot more believable that that of Norton.Graham is a complex character who has previously been institutionalized and constantly lives on edge.Throughout the film one gets the impression that the case he’s investigating is constantly damaging his psyche, The further he goes down the rabbit hole, The more emotionally involved he becomes.Norton’s almost deadpan delivery doesn’t make for a convincing portrayal of a detective walking a tightrope of sanity.
Second there’s Jack Crawford, loosely based on world renowned FBI criminal profiler John Douglas.I’m not taking anything away from Harvey Keitel’s performance in Dragon, I feel he did a decent job at portraying Crawford, And he’s a very talented actor.Dennis Farina in Manhunter however is just perfect for the role.Farina had actually started his career as a police officer, and had starred in shows such as “Police Story” and several episodes of “Miami Vice”, which were also directed by Mann.Farina was also familiar with the source material for the film, allowing him to capture the role perfectly.
Which brings me to Brian Cox as Lecter. While it would be nearly impossible to compete with Sir Anthony Hopkins, Cox’s portrayal is downright chilling.In Lambs, The scenes where Hopkins and Jodie Foster interact are remarkably well done.Here’s the difference however, Lecter was apprehended by Graham, the 2 are old foes who are brought together to reach a common goal. Clarice Starling on the other hand is young,naive and has no previous interaction with Lecter.The first scene where Cox and Petersen interact with one another is impeccable. Lecter is cold,cunning and manipulative right down to the core.I’d compare it to a chess game is his delivery.Cox is without a doubt one of the most underrated actors out there.Once again, Norton’s inability to make a convincing portrayal leaves a lot of the scenes with Lecter hollow and unfulfilling.
As far as story and plot, here’s where the the big difference is.Dragon opened with Lecter’s apprehension at the hands of Graham, In Manhunter it’s mentioned and talked about but never actually shown.I’ve said many times before Horror is what you Don’t see, here’s a fine example of that.We know he was caught by Graham, but it’s a lot more intriguing for the audience to imagine it, and not have it shown to them.It’s sometimes best to let the audience draw their own conclusions, it gives the viewer a sense of wonder.I also had a problem with Dragon’s multiple scenes of interaction with Lecter and Graham.In Manhunter the scenes were minimal, which gave them a bigger impact when the viewer sees them.As far as the the long fake out ending in Dragon, It’s something I think the film could have done without, and the scene that foreshadows Starling’s arrival to meet with Lecter in Lambs….I call shenanigans.The elements that Dragon had in it’s storyline seemed more like service to the fans than it did service to the plot.
In conclusion, Manhunter holds up.It’s the superior film,Go watch it and see for yourself.And if you haven’t seen “Hannibal” or “Hannibal Rising”…….Don’t worry you’re not missing much.