Manhunter vs. Red Dragon: Mann vs Ratner

MANHUNTER

Manhunter – 1986

Red-Dragon-1024-768

Red Dragon – 2002

 Manhunter                                                                                                                     

Director Michael Mann
Starring William Petersen, Kim Greist, Joan Allen, Brian Cox, Dennis Farina, Stephen Lang, Tom Noonan
Screenplay Mann

Red Dragon

Director Brett Ratner
Screenplay Anthony Hopkins, Edward Norton, Ralph Fiennes, Harvey Keitel, Emily Watson, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Mary-Louise Parker, Anthony Heald
Screenplay Ted Tally

Brett Ratner gets a lot of crap. Mainly for being the guy who will direct anything Hollywood gives him the opportunity to direct. His take on the third X-Men film is roundly criticized, even though he didn’t vary from the comics any less than Bryan Singer had. His first big sin, aside from making the Rush Hour films a fun, vapid success, is the remake of the film adaptation of Red Dragon. The first filmed version, Manhunter, bombed at the box office, but had always enjoyed critical success because of the connection to Michael Mann. Mann’s Miami Vice, a big success in the 80’s, gives all the flash and style present in that show, while ramping up the creepiness.

Then came Silence of the Lambs. The owner of the rights to the Lecter name, Dino De Laurentiis, lent the rights of the name to the filmmakers gratis. He had no concept that the second adapted book of Thomas Harris had any potential to make money. Everyone knows how that turned out. The success of Silence of the Lambs created a demand for another Lecter film with the actor that won an Oscar portraying him. De Laurentiis was not about to let the rights go for free this time. In fact they were the ones that ended up producing this time.

That first sequel, Hannibal, was a solid film with the uneven casting replacement of Julianne Moore as Clarice. As good an actress as she is, Moore had none of the talents that Jodie Foster had in the role. Nonetheless, the film scored at the box office, leaving the demand for more Lecter as fevered as ever.

Hopkins was game for more work as his famous alter-ego, and apparently Anthony Heald was available to play Dr. Chilton, so Red Dragon was rushed into production, coming out about 20 months after Hannibal. It was not the huge success that was its two Hopkins’ predecessors, but it was a very big film for a fall release.

Having recently watched the first two seasons of the Bryan Fuller television series and waiting for the third, I felt that now was the perfect time to jump into the series again from the beginning. As a result, I watched both versions of the Red Dragon story and decided to give it a side by side comparison. This breakdown will approach it’s review in several categories including but not limited to cast/characters, director, screenwriter/story. I have a feeling my determination of value may differ slightly from most, but I am cool with that.

Character/Cast:

Hannibal Lecter / Hannibal Lecktor: Anthony Hopkins vs. Bryan Cox

This is an easy one, if you understand the character. Hopkins was in his 3rd go round with Hannibal and he plays it to near perfection. This version of Lecter is mad as hell, not so resigned as his portrayal in Silence…and it dovetails nicely with the continuing development of the character. He is envious of his counterpart Will Graham, but too much interested in psychosis to pass up an opportunity to help. It’s a major thing for the character that we get the prologue with the “missing” player of the orchestra, as it presents Lecter more accurately to the books. Lecter was a killer, but he was anything but a desperate random killer of college girls, as portrayed in Mann’s story.

Brian Cox has a lot going against him in Manhunter.  Not the least the choice of cell and lighting, as well as the goofy changing of the name to Lecktor. All of this shows that the filmmakers did not really understand what they had their hands on when they purchased this property. The emphasis of the story at that time is on Dolarhyde. Harris had not fully fleshed out the character of Lector.  If they had, the result may have been different. Still, he does hold the camera with his gaze, and the viewer is entranced by that remorseless voice. Lecktor is nowhere near as scary as Lector, in total because I have a hard time feeling fear when everyone is wearing Miami Vice colors.

Edge to Red Dragon

Will Graham: Edward Norton vs. William Peterson

If one is not careful, they give this one away too easily. Edward Norton is an endlessly talented actor who has never consistently approached his potential. If he wanted to, he could have knocked his Will Graham out of the park. As it stands, he hits a solid double off the wall. His Graham is vulnerable and intelligent, obsessed and aloof, detailed and derailed. We get the benefit of seeing the injury he suffers at the hands of Lecter, and we also have the privilege of seeing Hopkins at his most engaged. Norton has a lot to hide when he meets him, and he does this with the verve of an unsure teenager standing up to someone he knows he is not better than. The Harris text feels much more natural coming from Norton’s Graham, and his brilliance mixed with a lack of strength is much more relatable. More than that, I buy him as much more curious and inquisitive.

William Peterson is a good actor. Of his work with Michael Mann, I have never been a fan. His Graham is not so much afraid for his family as his interested in explaining to them that sometimes a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do. Men in the Michael Mann universe don’t really know fear all too much.  At least not leading men. Peterson’s Graham spends a lot of time berating his unknown serial killer with curse words and questions to the open air. The same lines that Norton uses, only this time they seem angry and aimless. His interactions with his wife Molly pale in comparison to Norton’s Graham. One is talking to an equal, the other is pacifying the weaker sex. None of this is Peterson’s fault. His style in other works have been much more flexible and varied. Here, he might as well be played by Don Johnson or Philip Michael Thomas, for all the time he spends looking off to the side of the scene.

Point to Red Dragon

Francis Dolarhyde vs. Francis Dollarhyde: Ralph Fiennes vs. Tom Noonan

Before he played Voldemort and after Amon Goeth, Fiennes tried to fill the simple shoes of Francis Dolarhyde. He gives the role every bit of method acting he can conjure up, but in the end, it feels like too much. It’s very much the definition of having an all-star at every position, much like they did with the earlier film. The movie needs room for the viewer to breathe and watch without preconceptions. Fiennes is serviceable in every way, but he exudes almost no menace, for some reason.

Noonan’s Dollarhyde, however is the very high point for Mann’s film. Even without the extensive background given to Fienne’s Red Dragon, we know exactly what this beast is about from the moment we lay eyes on him. He is not at all a functioning part of society and very much someone to fear. Before I ever watched Mann’s film all the way through (took me a few times before I had ready access to media), I knew the movie was more his than anyone else’s. His power is clear, even if his character’s transformation is rushed through, compared to Fiennes, who is given every benefit of Harris’ and Tally’s writing to grow more thoroughly.

Point to Manhunter

Jack Crawford: Harvey Keitel vs. Dennis Farina

This one boils down to personal choice as much as anything. Both actors are enjoyable in their roles, to a certain degree. They bring what they have to the role. Keitel brings Brooklyn, New York to everything he does, and while he’s always got a strong presence here, I kept expecting him to break off into some hyper-kinetic rant and go off on a shooting spree. And really, would it have been so expensive to bring back Scott Glenn?

Farina, on the other hand brings a Chicago menace to the role. It’s easy to picture Farina as a crooked cop playing outside the lines, as he was a cop for 18 years, up to the time when this film was being made. He is the easy choice for me as Jack Crawford, if you want solid police procedural material. Let it be said, though, that neither player approaches Scott Glenn’s mastery of the role for Silence… nor Laurence Fishburne’s inventive take for the TV show.

Point to Manhunter

 Molly Graham: Mary-Louise Parker vs. Kim Greist

Poor Kim Greist.  She had the misfortune to be a woman in a Michael Mann directed story. Women in these spots are to be seen, mostly, and not heard too much. She makes good window dressing, to be sure, but as a person she is a few short of a six-pack. She seems sensible enough to be worried about her husband, but most of her questions or suggestions are hushed by her loving man of the house. She makes a good object of affection for their, son, too. The closest one can compare her too in-depth of character is, say, Shmi Skywalker from the first two Star Wars prequels.

Parker does not get much more screen time, and she’s shuttled around like cattle a bit two, but one only has to see her holding the gun for target practice in the middle of the film to know that she is trusted to do more than wait for Will to get the bad guy.

Big time point to Red Dragon.

Reba McClane: Emily Watson vs. Joan Allen

Extra props to seeing a really young Allen playing our blind damsel in distress. She, too is hindered by the Mann effect, but not as much as the plot cripples her performance. We get to see all of her scenes rushed into pretty much one night and a follow-up. Not much of it makes sense. She is an independent woman who has overcome her handicap, and she pretty much falls for the office weirdo after a ride home? Something tells me she might wait for the, say, 2nd date, perhaps? Her flailing around in the end while Iron Butterfly’s only hit blasts away looks a little like a random set director just told her to lean against the wall and wave the occasional arm.

Watson benefits from Ted Tally’s intelligent script. Simple things, like seeing her count steps and even waiting for the 2nd date. I think that Allen could have done every thing that Watson does, but she was never asked to. Also, it does not hurt the probability scale that Watson is visibly older and perhaps a little more willing to weigh the risks of her decisions. The likelihood that she spent more time with Dolarhyde, absorbing more information and maybe being a little more desperate is greater.

Easy point to Red Dragon.

Freddy Lounds: Hoffman vs. Lang

Given that it was because of this role in particular that I thought Stephen Lang was a horrible actor for years, this should be and is an easy victory for Hoffman. It balances out, though. It took me years to get over Hoffman’s annoying performance in Twister. Lang and the late Hoffman were supposed to play annoying characters, and both fit the bill. Hoffman’s Lounds is given more opportunity to flesh his character out, and he does a brilliant job of it. He is supposed to fall into the deep due to his hubris, but we see that he knows the risk he is taking, which makes why he is doing it more interesting. Lang just tips over into the abyss with no real clue.

Point to Red Dragon.

Fredrick Chilton: Anthony Heald vs. Benjamin Hendrickson

It takes one a much effort to figure out who or what Chilton is within the scheme of Manhunter. Mann misses the importance of the character by giving him absolutely zero nuance. This should be no surprise based on his handling of Freddy Lounds. In Mann’s hands he’s just another guy with a cigarette. Heald’s Chilton was one of the highlights for Silence of the Lambs, as Tally completely understands the smug ignorance he represents. They do a good job, for the most part, in fitting him into the second film. My only real complaint is a small one. As the movie is ending, we get a strong hint from Chilton that Lecter can expect a visit from Clarice Starling. That’s a little too cute to begin with. However, his hair and clothing style is somewhat different at that point from what it is in the classic film. Ratner should have avoided such an obvious effort to pander.

Point to Red Dragon, carried over from Silence of the Lambs.

Screenplay: Ted Tally vs. Michael Mann

If you are wondering who gets the point, you really haven’t been following along. It’s amazing to realize that these two takes on the same story are both 124 minutes long, yet contain such radically different amounts of information. Tally sticks so much closer to the source material that there are very few questions as to motivation or history.

Mann chose to ignore inconvenient aspects, making Lecktor a killer of “college girls” to bypass the moral complexity to Hannibal’s psychopathy. The result creates a void that Cox has to fill by sheer force of will. Hopkins benefits greatly from Tally’s translation of Harris’ dialogue and actions. How hard is it for Mann to show that Hannibal does not respond well to people being rude?

More than this, there is so much more plot and character development. Adding the original ending, the tattoo and hints about Dolarhyde’s Grandma, we are given context. With Mann, we get a lot of smoking and people looking away from the camera. Oh, and some yelling, too.

Huge point to Red Dragon.

Director: Brett Ratner vs. Michael Mann

Ratner is not real subtle, but he does not intentionally go out of his way to blow stuff up, Renny Harlin-style. His style is distinctly paint by numbers, but he has some nice flash and style.

Conversely, at this point, Mann was all about flash and style. His luck to get Tom Noonan in casting helped to add a real visceral element to a movie which otherwise is as muted as any episode of Miami Vice. It would take him several years to have the content catch up to the visuals, even if it only lasted briefly. The movie version of Miami Vice, Public Enemies and more recently, Blackhat make it clear that his tenuous touch with storytelling is on the wane.

Ratner’s done a lot of crap lately too. Somehow he got roped into doing Beverly Hills Cop IV. Likely because of his pals in Hollywood. It can’t be worse than Hercules, one would suspect.

Why is this debate important?  For me it’s the demystification of Peterson and, more importantly, Mann. He is a little closer to Brett Ratner than he would like to admit. I have him on the downside of that equation, even.

To that end, and the end of this article, my ratings for both films:

Red Dragon (**** out of *****)
Manhunter (** out of *****)

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9 thoughts on “Manhunter vs. Red Dragon: Mann vs Ratner

  1. “All of this shows that the filmmakers did not really understand what they had their hands on when they purchased this property.”

    Clearly Mann understands Red Dragon much better, than anyone connected to 2002’s vesrion. Simply because while Norton’s Graham “is vulnerable and intelligent, obsessed and aloof, detailed and derailed”, Petersen’s is much more closer to the original source. Norton may have shivered a lot in Hannibal’s present, but it’s Petersen who really can show his deep vulnerability and connection with Hannibal’s mind. Why Norton’s Graham has to read Dollarhyde’s diary to understand him and his childhood (which Petersen’s Graham handles by actually identifying with Francis through his murders, he doesn’t need some shitty diary)? Why in his deduction moments he is never put in killer’s shoes? Because Ratner’s movie is much more simple, that’s why. Yeah, it has more story, more details, so that mainstream audience can conect with it more easily. Mann, meanwhile, even improves on Harris’ novel. He understands, that Dollarhyde’s background story is not essential. It’s more important to get the feeling that Graham understands him.

    And Mann’s directing is genius. Not only due to beautiful visuals and unforgettable use of music (which actually empathisez characters). But also because Mann leaves numerous symbols which show how much exactly Graham’s mind is affected by those of Lecter’s and Dollarhyde’s: in Leeds’ house he follows killers’ footsteps with same camera shots and music; in final sequence he does not immediatly try to save Joan Allen’s character from Francis – instead he’s standing for a while few yards away, in the dark, hiding behind the trees, watching – just like Tooth Fairy watched his victims; finally my favourite – during his visit to Lecter, both characters are shown behind the bars/

    I agree, that shouting is something which shouldn’t be in Petersen’s perfomance, but generally he is much better Graham, than neurotic Norton.

    Being faithful to source material word by word may be a good thing, but cathcing its main idea is much more important. And Red Dragon novel is not about plot, Lecter or Dollarhyde’s childhood. It’s about vulnerability of person’s mind when it is touched by Evil.

    I actually loved Ratner’s movie first time I saw it. It took watching Manhunter and reading the book to understand what a lame adaptation 2002’s version really is. Just a regular mainstream used to make many on Hopkins-Lecter popularity.

    TV series is also much better. Funny thing, in first season Dancy’s perfomance was way too exaggerated, and I couldn’t help but remember Norton. In following seasons he got the hang of being Graham, and I felt him finally reaching the great level of perfomance and character development Petersen did in just two-hour movie.

    1. Thank you very much for your reply. I really appreciate your perspective. I do think that overall Peterson did have more of a grip on the inner darkness of Graham. And I really appreciate the television series as well.

  2. Manhunter is a real film. Red Dragon is remake & franchised popcorn movie. Seriously, I wonder how old some of the “Red Dragon the movie” fans are. I was about 20 when Manhunter came out. It got very little, if any publicity, on the East Coast.

    I also believe that you should not compare film to books. It’s not the same expienceat all. How many people do you belieive owned the book Red Dragon in 1986? Not that many. How about After Silence of the Lambs came out?

    Ask yourself a question. Where was Anthony Hopkins in 1986? Certainly not a A list movie star. The Elephant Man 1980. Not much between..The Bounty I suppose, in 1984. I liked him best being a puppeteer in “Magic”. 1978. I think. Either way, Brian Cox, was the first Lec(k)tor. Anyone who saw his performance in Manhunter before Silence of the Lambs, winces at Hopkin’s scenery chewing in Red Dragon. He thinks he’s still in Silence of the Lambs! Im taking nothing away from Silence, as I enjoyed that film. Interesting, one notorious critic of Manhunter, asked why none of the Manhunter cast were not asked to do “Red Dragon the movie”. Do you see the flaw in his “Logic” right away?

    *Peterson is much more believable than “Baby Face” Norton. I actually laughed at this casting decision. I can almost hear it now: “But bruh…he was awesome in Fight Club.” The same for Fiennes & Schindler’s List. The backstory was not needed. “Excuse me Mr. Killer, before you kill me, can you tell me a little about yourself, your childhood, etc.?” 😦

    *Griest vs. Parker. “Poor Kim” did this movie & one called “Brazil”. Perhaps you’ve heard of it? Parker holding gun impressed you? Why? Let me think whether I’d rather have a loving wife, who cares deeply about my son & me (Griest) or Annie Oakley? (Parker). It’s a silly point you’re trying to make, imo.

    * Emily Watson vs. Joan Allen? Is this a joke? This is the most agregious part of the remake, imo. Emily Watson: ” Look, it’s clear that you’ve had some “Soft Palette” injury..” I’m sorry, you’ll have to watch Joan Allen’s to understand the meaning of the word “Tact”. There is a nice way of broaching an obviously sensitive subject. But like most of this Manhunter remake, it’s done in Bull in a china shop style. In the 1980’s an independent woman could do as she pleased. Watson is a bore & counting steps does nit make her more intelligent, attractive or cosmically “in-tune”. It makes her seem more like Jack Nicolson in “As Good as it Gets.” Is Watson supposed to be blind with OCD too?

    1. Thanks for taking the time to share your perspective, AndyT. I do think that the comparison to the book is a valid way to look at Thomas Harris as a whole, but if you choose to not do this, that is fine too.

      My feelings about Mann’s use of women should be more obvious by the fact that Griest shone in other performances (like Brazil) and especially Chicago Hope. It’s not too much to ask that a woman be able to defend herself in a movie or in life. This rolls easily into Reba’s portrayals.

      That one would have a lead up of nearly 20 years to like a movie might make them feel betrayed when the film is remade by someone with a spotty career at best. Ratner is a competent director at best. Mann is not a good director, in my opinion. And we know that my opinion counts most, because I am a gasbag.

      1. CP–do you believe that of Mann’s work in general, or just in Manhunter? Just curious.
        Regarding his treatment of female characters, I suppose you could extend all of his characters (male/female) in general. Mann’s take on the world in general seems bleak, with the exceptional spark in mankind (see: Heat, Last of the Mohicans, &c.) that finally brings about real change/progress. An alternate perspective who believes he is an outstanding director, but hey–I love Indian food. You may not love Indian food. 😉

      2. Although I am not a fan of Mann’s work for the most part, I did appreciate Collateral and The Insider, to a lesser extent. His bleak themes are too stylized for me to take seriously. The whole thing with his men looking off into the distance, thinking about serious things while women wait for them to make up both of their minds…it’s antiquated.

        To be fair it is just my take on it, and maybe I had a hatred hangover from Miami Vice and Heat. Everyone has a bias.

        PS. I never tried Indian food until I met my wife. I can’t get enough curry now.

  3. Interesting takes from both of you.
    I actually appreciate the “Mann effect” much more than Ratner’s take on the film. Red Dragon seems like more of a formulaic (& conventional) take on the story, guiding the viewer through by holding his or her hand as if to say “See? See what I did there? Heh? HEH??”
    Mann’s approach is more nuanced. He implies the violence, he implies the character, he implies the history, but he leaves it to the viewer to decide just how far they want their imaginations to delve into each facet.
    I could get into each category (eg. I still strongly prefer Brian Cox, Will Petersen, & Scott Glenn in their respective films), but I’ll leave it at this: It’s perfectly acceptable to like & enjoy watching both films. I believe them both to be well-done. Manhunter gets my nod mainly because it was guided by a cinematic genius in Mann, but Ratner certainly put his own stamp on the series.
    Thanks for the discussion!

    1. And Thank you so much for taking the time CobaltRed. I agree with your overall perspective. There are good points to each film, but what one you choose is definitely a matter of perspective. Have a good one.

  4. Manhunter is the superior film in almost every respect. It deviates from the novel in ways which improve the story; the acting is better; the soundtrack/music is better. Only in the editing of the final scenes and a few other details is it inferior to Ratner’s fim.

    The novel Red Dragon has too complex a plot for a feature film. Mann in Manhunter wisely chose to focus on the chase – without the need for the complex twist at the end. But Ratner’s Red Dragon made the mistake of trying to emulate the complexities of the novel rather than streamline the story for film.

    As far as the acting, Red Dragon has the more acclaimed cast. At least on paper. Anthony Hopkins, Ralph Fiennes, Edward Norton, Emily Watson, Harvey Keitel, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Mary Louise-Parker are all celebrated in their profession, with multiple Oscar, Golden Globe, BAFTA awards and nominations from their peers.

    But Ratner didn’t get much from these names. Hopkins was too old. Fiennes and Norton were miscast. Ratner chose to play Mary Louise-Parker like she’s smart trailer trash. Watson was not bad in the blind role, but Joan Allen was better. And Stephen Lang is better than Hoffman as Freddie Lounds.

    Anthony Hopkins is a superb actor, but he was a glassy-eyed 65-year-old actor in 2002 when Red Dragon came out. He had lost the menace he possessed more than decade earlier when The Silence of the Lambs was released.

    Brain Cox, on the other hand, was excellent in his short stint as Hannibal Lector. He underplayed the menace with more believable suaveness and quickness of mind. Perhaps that was because Cox was also only forty-years-old when he played the role and so much more alert-looking than Hopkins, who sometimes looked like he was battling astigmatism whenever he glanced in the direction of the camera.

    Mann gets so much more out of all his actors. Peterson is more convincing as Graham than is Norton, who sometimes comes across more like he’s a depressed professor than a haunted cop.

    Tom Noonan was a revelation as Francis Dolarhyde. That character requires a strong, ugly man to play the role, whereas the effete, handsome Fiennes is simply not believable in it. His voice is also too affected. Noonan is a huge man who looks like he could be a serial killer.

    One should not compare the two movies without mentioning the soundtrack of Manhunter. It’s one of the best soundtracks of a feature film I’ve ever heard. And yet the music was criticized by movie critics as too synthetic when the movie was first released. (Go to Youtube to listen to the soundtrack. It’s stupendous.)

    Manhunter has become a cult classic for a reason. The movie was unfairly neglected by movie-going audiences and maligned by movie critics when it was first released in the theaters. (For what it’s worth, the novel was also unfairly neglected by book readers when it was first published.) But the success of Silence of the Lambs got Manhunter another look from both critics and audiences, and that second viewing has allowed the film to be reevaluated it to its proper stature.

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