30 March 2014
BIFF 2014 #3: MANHUNTER (Michael Mann, 1986, US)
Manhunter was Mann’s third feature and followed the critical and commercial failure of The Keep. Given Mann’s current status as a director of considerable pre-eminence, Manhunter continues to grow in critical stature and could even be claimed as a cult film today. While all the typical Mann obsessions are evident, this is very much a film about ‘seeing’. Both Will Graham and Dollarhyde are parallel figures and seeing is refracted through video, photos and a voyeuristic gaze, but what they are trying to ‘see’ is invisible as it resides in a metaphysical void. Like many of Mann’s films, Manhunter visualises space and particularly architecture as an integral component of the mise-en-scene so that the metaphor of the double becomes projected into a postmodern space of anxiety. When released in 1986, Manhunter may have been ahead of its time. It is a work that cultivated an influential neo noir visual style through the use of blue filters, ambient new age music and crime idioms, all of which act as authorial signifiers. The idea of seeing and the refusal to starts almost in the first scene on the beach. Crawford places a photo of a family upside down on a piece of driftwood they are both sitting on. At first, Graham refuses to see in fear of his family but he is compelled to do so by the secret pleasures he finds in seeing, watching and gazing. As a genre piece, Manhunter is a superior neo noir thriller but it transcends such attempts to pin it down through an intellectualism in terms of form, style and ideology. Perhaps certain elements of the new age soundtrack fail to click today, reminding us of Manhunter’s 1980s context. It is hard to comprehend but Manhunter was the last film Mann directed in the 1980s, taking a hiatus (six long years to be exact) that would see him return to feature filmmaking in the early 1990s with The Last of the Mohicans (1992). I do feel it is time that Mann’s much maligned The Keep (1983) be resurrected and restored to its original three hour cut envisioned by the director. Only then can a reassessment be undertaken to fairly situate Mann’s cinema in the 1980s. I should mention the stellar cast, another Mann authorial intuition; William Petersen, Kim Griest, Dennis Farina, Brian Cox, Joan Allen and Tom Noonan are all perfectly cast and deliver terrific work. Finally, the ace cinematographer Dante Spinotti shot the film, marking the first of many collaborations with Mann.