FBI forensic expert Will Graham is brought back from voluntary retirement to help track down a serial killer nicknamed the 'Tooth Fairy'. Graham's ability to fathom the workings of the criminal mind also disturbs him, and as he pursues the killer he is putting his sanity, and later his life, at risk.
Michael Mann's vision of Thomas Harris' novel is as close to the heart of the book as you could get. The complex plot is told from opposing views, based around Graham's pivotal role. Although the killer does not appear until almost halfway into the movie, we experience his viewpoint through Graham's intense investigation, leaving us with a disturbing feeling of voyeurism but also one of frustration as we sympathise with the police. Being caught in the middle in this way helps build tension and suspense throughout the film. William Peterson's performance as the troubled Will Graham is central to a film in which all the actors are excellent, not least Brian Cox delivering a first and chilling screen incarnation of Hannibal Lecter.
Mann evokes an atmosphere of horror by imaginatively using locations and photography to show the aftermath of the crimes, which also helps portray the world as perceived by Graham. He also works in a couple of startling set pieces to help bring the impact home. This is a truly suspenseful, stylish thriller, sadly overlooked since the Oscar-winning "The Silence of the Lambs". In many ways, this is a subtler and equally skilful film.
"Manhunter" is on Channel 4 at 10.00pm on Monday 19th February 2001.
Read a review of "Hannibal".