Monday, December 17, 2007


michael mann is an american master & this is a wonderful film. i made the fatal error of seeing the 'red dragon' remake a few years back & 'manhunter' follows almost precisely the same plot line (tho mann excludes the emphasis on Blakean decryption that dominates the remake). already knowing the outcome of various investigative revelation scenes didn't much help in my appreciation of 'manhunter' as a geuinely 'scary' film, tho i'm sure it was at the time.

i love directors that basically riff on a theme. in this respect 'manhunter' as a title is interesting. it's probably the worst title of mann's career (& it appears as if it was changed at the last minute to encourage some box office attraction), but it has slight ramifications for the rest of mann's career. his best films (heat/the insider/miami vice) have him 'hunting' after the spirit of brilliantly talented 'men' who can only become the men they want or can become by sacrificing connections with the women in their lives. it is probably the principal fault of mann as a dramatist that his women characters consistenly threaten to become little more than angelic obstacles to the proper exercise of male vocations. but this is slightly unfair; diane venora's character in 'heat' delivers the key soliloquy of that epic, summarising all that is grotesque about husband pacino's lifestyle, & the women in 'miami vice' are as much 'players' of the hyper-cool undercover game as the male leads. at the level of character development, however, 'manhunter' is almost wholly about will graham's ability to suspend familial easefulness such that he might get back on the 'manhunt'. indeed, momentary sequences (such as an astounding close-up of graham's disturbed face interlaced with scenes of mother/son innocence) hint at the potential impossibility of any reconciliation between what graham 'does' for a living with any form of familial ambition.

in 'heat' this impossibility is pronounced at the film's climax. de niro/pacino leave their respective women at the moment of potentially mending connection to conclude the 'hunt' once & for all (in pacino's case this instant is shown in a stunning, silent dash down a flight of steps). the 'hunt' ends in the only way it can, in a final shot suggesting perpetually combative asymmetry; one man dead, slouched, facing in one direction; the other holding the combatant's hand limply, facing in the opposite direction. what's fascinating is that 'manhunter' opens with exactly the same composition; two men sitting on a beachside log; will graham facing camera, his boss seated in the opposite direction attempting to coax him back into the 'male game'. all gestures at cross-connection are ultra-tentative; the boss's hand slides some photographs of the murder victims part-way across the pallidly fragile log, quasi-flirtatiously. the 'wife & son' arrive on the scene & an affair is delayed.

it's one of many examples (really, every scene is an example) of the stupendous suggestiveness of 'manhunter's' cinematography. i'll get to that soon enough.
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