Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—Manhunter (1986) ***½

R, 121 min.
Director: Michael Mann
Writers: Michael Mann, Thomas Harris (novel “Red Dragon”)
Starring: William Petersen, Dennis Farina, Kim Greist, Tom Noonan, Joan Allen, Brian Cox, Stephen Lang, David Seaman, Benjamin Hendrickson

I’ve been meaning to get back to Michael Mann’s 1986 crime drama “Manhunter” ever since watching NBC’s “Hannibal” early this summer. Of all the Hannibal Lecter related movies, this is the one that series made me think of the most. Perhaps that because the central character here is Will Graham, the same as in the TV series. Of course Edward Norton played Graham in the remake of this as “Red Dragon” a decade and a half later. But it is William Petersen’s Graham that seems more like the one presented by Hugh Dancy in the television series.

What ultimately led me back to this film, however, was the announcement yesterday of the death of Dennis Farina, who created the role of Jack Crawford in this film. It is well known that Farina was a former Chicago policeman when he became an actor. He’s played more than his fair share of cops, and criminals for that matter.

The director of “Manhunter”, Michael Mann, had much to do with the launch of Farina’s acting career. Mann cast Farina in his very first role, in the Chicago-based crime thriller “Thief”. He was originally hired as a police consultant for the film, but Mann ended up giving him a small role. Mann then cast him as the lead in his “Crime Story” television series and as mob boss Albert Lombard in several episodes of the popular “Miami Vice”.

Jack Crawford would prove to be his first leading film role in “Manhunter”, the often overlook launch of the iconic characters from the Thomas Harris Hannibal novels. He quickly became a staple actor for crime pictures and even enjoyed a surprisingly successful run of comedic performances. His final television role would be as the father of Zooey Deschanel’s romantic interest Jake Johnson in the hit FOX comedy “New Girl”.  His character was killed off for a uniquely funny episode well before the actor’s death.

Farina was almost a signature of Mann’s work in the 80s. Mann’s fascinations with the process of crime give his films a unique cold nature to them, and Farina’s own personal experience with crime helped to develop Mann’s unique vision. Although other actors would come to play Jack Crawford and bring more levels to this flawed investigator, Farina’s background as a cop defined the foundations of his work as Crawford and leaves an invaluable mark on the legacy of Harris’s character. “Manhunter” is where everything about “Hannibal” started.

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