Release Date: 1986
Directed by Michael Mann
Based on the novel by Thomas Harris
Screenplay by Michael Mann
Starring: William Petersen
***** (5 out of 5 stars)
"As a child, my heart bleeds for him. Someone took a little boy and turned him into a monster. But as an adult... as an adult, he's irredeemable. He butchers whole families to fulfill some sick fantasy. As an adult, I think someone should blow the sick fuck out of his socks."
A quote that maybe describes the topsy turvy feelings one can feel when on the subject of an abused person who later in life succumbs to the evils done against them and beings to do evil themselves. In possibly the finest of the films about Hannibal Lecter (spelled Lecktor here), even better than it's remake Red Dragon, Michael Mann serves up his classic style dropped into the world of Thomas Harris. We follow Will Graham as he is brought back in on a case for the FBI that puts him back in the hot seat; a few years before, Graham nearly went insane trying to capture Lecktor, and got seriously wounded in the process. Now, Jack Crawford wants him in to help catch The Tooth Fairy, a killer who takes whole families lives together. Slowly we watch Graham fall back into the mindset needed to catch a serial killer, and of course he goes back to his old pal Hannibal for some advice, a little quid pro quo. We watch two sides of the film between the killer's life and Graham's, a style which extended into Silence of the Lambs as we watch both Starling/Lecter battle with wits and Buffalo Bill a.k.a James Gumb as he goes about his routine. This film in particular is very interesting because it shows us Francis Dollarhyde's life (The Tooth Fairy) as he struggles to find love but succumbs to the dangerous urges inside him. It's a fairly twisted tale, and something that we don't usually see from Mann; I love his filmmaking, and having seen the 2nd film in the Thomas Harris series first I was pleasantly surprised to go back and see this one after already knowing about Lecter, and of course already enjoying Mann's style in other films.
William Petersen (most well known for his role as Gil Grissom, the overeducated crime scene forensics expert) is the true story of this film- he is on fire. Between this and To Live & Die in L.A, Petersen never has to be in another film for me to consider him one of the top actors in his generation. It's hard to look away from the screen when he's there, he commands the respect and the attention we give his character. It's hard for an actor to really nail a role on the head perfectly to where I want to see the performances go, but Petersen pulls it off and really makes me feel like Will Graham is in front of me. His delivery, his timing, the way he moves- everything feels right. Not to mention the slick look that Mann lays over the film like a glossy coat; the director's choices for atmosphere really pull us into Graham's character. We spend the long hours with him, we walk through the victims houses with him, we fall into his shoes. He makes us go round each corner with him, feel what he's feeling. A truly epic performance in my opinion.
Another exceptional performance I feel that's worth notice is Tom Noonan as Francis Dollarhyde. That being said- I love Ralph Fiennes' portrayal as well, but Noonan is just creepy in general. He later ends up on CSI up against Petersen's Grissom, which is pretty neat too. In this film, he is a loner- a big, tall, creepy creeperton of a man. He is shadowy, but also we get the feeling that at any minute maybe he could just smash someone to bits. He looks tall and lanky but behind that lies some sort of mysterious danger. He brings a quality to the role that Fiennes doesn't have in the remake. Fiennes plays a physically fit, physically commanding Dollarhyde while Noonan plays the character as dangerous, but even more detached physically and emotionally.
This movie is top notch, from acting to directing. One final scene at the end with Will Graham and his son sums it all up- the fight between the great evil and the great good. They watch a family of turtles swimming, and the boy asks "How many?", and Will replies: "Most of 'em.. most of 'em made it!". I take this a subtle metaphor for the families that Will has saved due to giving himself over to the FBI and what they needed. He saved countless families from the wrath of The Tooth Fairy by giving up pieces of himself, and almost pieces of those he loves. An excellent film, worth 5 stars.