3 March 2014

You Owe Me Awe



We've all got a few secrets and fantasies that we're perhaps a little embarrassed to talk about and so I've decided I'm going to put your minds at rest. Do you like to use bondage? Well, don't worry because plenty of people do. Are you into role play and dressing up and all that? Yep, I suppose that's pretty harmless too. Do you like to break into people’s houses slaughter everybody that lives there and then stick bits of broken mirrors into their cold, dead eyes? Hmm... maybe you should call it a day on that last one. Last night I decided to re-watch Michael Mann's 1986 cult film Manhunter and it turns out that if you're into the whole death-y.. family.. mirror eyes thing then you're probably a total fucking psychopath. Who'd have thought it!

For anybody who’s not seen it, Manhunter is the very first film to feature Dr Hannibal Lecter- or to give him the correct name, Dr Hannibal Lecktor. Based upon the Thomas Harris Novel Red Dragon, Lecktor is brilliantly played here by Brian Cox which is a useful bit of trivia for any wannabe smart arses. In fact, if anybody tries to catch you out by asking who the first person to play Lecter was then simply answer “it depends how you're spelling Lecktor” which should be enough of a dickish response to counter-fuck them over. You're welcome! Oh, and if you're wondering about why you've heard of the title Red Dragon before it's because in 2002 Bret Ratner directed a remake presumably considering himself a skilled enough successor to do the job. Michael Mann is the genius director of such classics as The Insider and Heat and so I'm sure if anybody can improve on his work it probably is Ratner, whose back catalogue is so boring that it's like he's trying to be the Mr Monopoly of celluloid shit.

He thinks he's turning into a Great Red Dragon but all I'm seeing is Larry David
In Mann's version of the story, Will Graham is a retired FBI agent lured back into work when it's decided that he's the only person skilled enough to catch a serial killer known as The Tooth Fairy. Although I thought that the worst crime to feature a Tooth Fairy was that shit film starring The Rock, this one is in fact a lanky nutter who believes he's turning into the Dragon from his favourite painting. In order to catch him, Will must get into the mindset of thinking like a psychopath which is a skill exclusive only to him and anybody who’s ever sat through a Brett Ratner movie boxset and lived to tell the tale. During his investigation Will also decides to hone his senses and get a little friendly advice from his old mucker Dr Hannibal Lecktor who, thanks to a bad habit of eating people’s faces, now spends his time banged up in a nut house. From what I hear, human flesh tastes just like pork so I've never quite understood why cannibals don't just eat pork instead, which, currently, won't result in life in prison. Silly psychopaths! Anyway from here on out, Will gets closer and closer to the mindset of the killer who in turn believes he's getting closer and closer to transforming into that dragon... what a knobhead. At the same time Lecktor himself starts getting involved and causing trouble because like an over-concerned mother some people just can't keep their fucking noses out.

Anyway so if you've not seen any Michael Mann films then this is a great starting point for you to begin your education with as it contains many of the themes that continue throughout the rest of his work. Perhaps the most obvious one would be that both the hero and the bad guy are different sides of the same demented coin. This is constantly referenced by Will having to understand the mind of The Tooth Fairy to find him in the same way that his previous captive Lecktor is able to. It's also a concept which Mann examined even more masterfully in Heat and slightly more shitly in Public Enemies. Manhunter is also the first of his films to feature the colour blue in such an in-your-face way which has since become one of his defining trademarks. Like in Heat, the colour here is also used to represent both love and sex showing up in both films when a main character is lucky enough to get their bonk on.

Perhaps most significantly though with Mann's films it really is a man’s world as the exploration of masculinity seems to be the most definitive theme running through his entire back catalogue. As has been pointed out several times, the one thing all of his men have in common is that they share the secret of understanding the fragility of peace and the savage twattery of our horrible world. As a result, all of these main characters have locked their feelings up in an icy prison with their detached coolness resulting in a distancing from their loved ones as most women tend not to enjoy being emotionally fucked off. In Heat, De Niro's bank robber lives by the rule of having nothing in his life that he's not able to turn his back on at any given second. Sadly the real life De Niro seems to have applied this logic to making quality films. In Mann's films, having anything that you care about is considered a vulnerability which is also true of Manhunter when The Tooth Fairy is given the home address of Will's wife and child. However to compensate for the existential loneliness that these blokey bloke's live with, they instead focus their energies and excel exclusively in their professional lives where they remain in constant control and at the top of their game. In fact it's only ever through finding the men of a similar mindset that they can find understanding which is what I said earlier with the whole yin, yang, coin thing. For better or for worse, Mann's films, as his name might suggest, are very much the cinematic equivalent of a proper serious, joke-free, sausage party.

So yeah the film is genuinely great and although he's not the main character, it does possibly feature at least the most realistic performance of Hannibal yet. It's unfair to compare each performance in terms of quality because Manhunter is a very different type of film to any that have subsequently followed it. This is clinical examination of how to catch a nutcase using methodical and psychoanalytical techniques. Silence Of The Lambs however is a full on gothic pantomime with over the top performances, 'he's behind you' type scares and even the traditional panto dame. In case you're not so ‘up’ on your pantomimes then the ‘Dame’ is a man who dresses up as a fat woman to make the audience laugh... Although generally he doesn't start his song and dance routine with the lines “would you fuck me? I'd fuck me, I'd fuck me hard”. Not in any I've seen, anyway. Also, Anthony Hopkins's Lector works as brilliantly in his more hammer horror type film as Cox's does in his more grounded realistic one. It's as unfair to compare the work of these two actors because although the films were released chronologically, they're as much a sequel to one another as Skyfall is a sequel to Moonraker. For completists though, I do recommend the new Hannibal TV show which is like a cross between the two types of film and features a great performance from Mads Mikkelsen whose Lector doesn't even attempt the realism of Cox's, instead playing the part like a cross between James Bond and The Devil. I guess there's also Gaspard Ulliel's version in Hannibal Rising but really, with something as shit and unnecessary as that, who can be bothered?

"Oh hello- yes, Gaspard Ulliel was a boring cunt..."
Speaking of shit and unnecessary however, that brings me nice and neatly back onto Manhunters 2002 remake Red Dragon. Having said that it's pointless to compare performances, I'm going to turn myself into a hypocrite and say simply that if Cox does have any edge then it's in that his version was a solo outing. After the success of Silence of The Lambs, Hopkins re-played the role in Ridley Scott's Hannibal which to be fair is stupid but I do have a soft spot for, and then again in Ratner's crappy remake. The problem with all this is that the key to Hannibal is in his mystery and so the more that's explained about him the less alluring he becomes. Ten years after Hopkins played the character he attempted to play him ten years younger than he originally was which just meant giving him a little ponytail that made him look like a lesbian dinner-lady. Cox on the other hand might only be in this film for a mere few minute but his presence can be felt in every scene as he controls events like a mischievous cannibal bell-end.

To sort of conclude, if I'm going to be kind, I'd say that for what it is and considering the man in charge, Red Dragon isn't the turd mountain of shit that it should be... Ultimately there's just no need for it. It's an average-and-more superficial thriller with a great cast and actually one of my favourite scores from Danny Elfman however it just does fuck all new from Manhunter or Silence of The Lambs. For an easy demonstration of the difference, just watch the opening scenes of both versions with Manhunter being all about drawing you in through ambiguity and Red Dragon being about spoon feeding exposition. The exposition might go down more smoothly at first but that's only because it's basically shit. Mann's film is all about empathising with evil in order to achieve your purpose in life and the effect that might have. In many ways, Niche's quote... which may be my favourite quote of all time could be this films tagline,“Battle not with monsters, lest ye become a monster, and if you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you”. On the flipside, Red Dragon just looks at the source material, shits all over the psychology of it and replaces it with a tribute film to Anthony Hopkins. Manhunter may have created the police procedural film, helped popularise the word 'serial killer', and may be in the top two or three catch-the-psycho movies of all time. I'm not saying you have to see it but rather if you're a fan of film then until you do we simply can't be friends.

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