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February 15, 2014

Red Dragon, Manhunter

by Brendan

I was planning to write that I’m a fan of the 1986 movie Manhunter, written\directed by Michael Mann, starring William Peterson as FBI agent Will Graham

William Peterson as Will Graham

William Peterson as Will Graham

and Brian Cox as Hannibal Lector.  (Silence of the Lambs is the more-famous Lector movie, starring Oscar-winner Antony Hopkins as Lector and Jodie Foster as FBI agent Clarice Starling.)

Saving I’m a fan of the movie would be dishonest: I’m over-the-top obsessed with it, probably have watched it a dozen times, would likely watch it right now if I had it available.  So I very much resisted watching Red Dragon, the “remake” of Manhunter, when it came out in 2002, even though it stars Edward Norton as Will Graham and Hopkins reprising his Silence of the Lambs role as Lector.  And Harvey Keitel, also Philipp Seymour Hoffman in a small role, as creepy tabloid journalist Freddie Loundes.

(If I wished to be self-revelatory, or if I really understood my obsession with movies and books about serial killers, if there was something to offer up as a solution to my fascination with Manhunter, I would.  Big fan of director Michael Mann and star William Peterson scratches the surface of explanation — but isn’t enough.  Deep interest in books, movies, art, art movements, and music that demonstrates an “appetite for destruction” has a touch of explanatory power.  Don’t really know the answer.)

Part of my refusal to watch Red Dragon was a philosophical objection to remakes, especially remakes of perfectly-good movies, ones in no need at all of remaking. Part of it was my being offended that somebody thought it necessary to remake what I considered a brilliant movie.  Part of it was me being a snob.

As it turns out, Red Dragon (which by the way is the title of the Thomas Harris novel that started the whole Hannibal Lector fetish) turned up on American Movie Channel, and I happened to notice, and decided to DVR it.  Watching it now, fast-forwarding through the frequent commercials.

Red Dragon Movie Poster

Red Dragon Movie Poster

It’s a very close, though not shot-by-shot remake.  Interestingly, it starts with a scene not in Manhunter, the action of which starts about 3 years after that of Red Dragon.  It’s a scene where Will Graham meets with Lector, and discovers, through looking at Lector’s books, that the doctor, whom he’s consulting for forensic advice on some brutal killings, is actually the killer he is seeking.  And then Lector attacks him, almost kills him.  Graham fights back, shooting Lector, who survives, and is arrested, tried, convicted, and in jail as the movie continues (after a scene in the Florida Keys, where Will has retired after his violent encounter with Hannibal Lector).

Quite interesting to me to see all the characters in Red Dragon played by different actors than those in Manhunter, often in scenes so close to the original that I’ve practically memorized them.  There’s a bit more of the book in the remake, a bit more probing into the sad history of the serial killer who calls himself the Red Dragon.  (In Manhunter, Peterson as Graham says, “I have all the sympathy in the world for an abused child.  But as an adult, I think he’s irredeemable, and I want to blow him out of his socks.”)

Two reasons I might be so obsessed with this material: 1) Will Graham rescues the woman and kills the “monster” in both movies — that’s rather epic and mythic of him.  But possibly better: Will Graham has a special power, the ability to look at the crime scene and other evidence and put himself in the mind of the killer — and, in the tradition of fictional heroes with special powers, it doesn’t bring him much happiness, to say the least.

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