Coming off the heels of January’s release of Blackhat, TIFF Cinematheque is running the retrospective Neon Nights: The Films of Michael Mann from February 5 through March 26. Director Michael Mann is probably best known for his genre-defining crime films like 1981’s Thief and 1995’s Heat but his filmography is littered with great films like his striking 1992 period adventure The Last of the Mohicans and 1999’s powerhouse drama The Insider.
All of Mann’s theatrical releases are being shown, save his second effort—1983’s The Keep—which the director has all but disowned (too bad because it’s heavy atmosphere and Tangerine Dream score would make for a fun midnight movie). Mann has made some of the most acclaimed films of the last 35 years, that are designed to be seen on the big screen: the lush cinematography of The Last of the Mohicans would be all the more awe-inspiring, and the sleek, visceral, endlessly quotable Miami Vice would play like gangbusters with the right kind of crowd.
Perhaps the biggest draw in this retrospective is the 35mm archival print of Mann’s appropriately-titled 1986 film Manhunter. Mann’s adaptation of Thomas Harris’ novel Red Dragon—the first to feature the character Hannibal Lector—has been on the cusp of cult status for years, but has recently been finding new audiences thanks in part to its growing reputation and reconsideration, plus the success of NBC’s Hannibal. The film stars William L. Petersen as Will Graham in an iconic Mann’s man role: a brilliant, wounded professional is brought back into the fray—out of a sense of moral obligation and duty—for one last job. In search of a notorious serial killer, retired FBI profiler Graham enlists the help of the incarcerated Lector (a devilish Brian Cox), which threatens his mental well-being and puts his life and family at risk.
Manhunter helped establish the visual language and framework for modern procedurals and serial killer films and television series alike (CSI owes a debt to this film and also starred Petersen). Mann’s film also showcases the director at arguably his most stylized, at least before his foray into digital video with recent films like Collateral and Miami Vice. Mann’s style exemplifies the heightened MTV aesthetic of the 1980s at its most artful and focussed, using colour and music to help convey the film’s themes, while elevating emotions. Manhunter is thrilling, suspenseful, terrifying, and oddly moving; it may not be Mann’s most technically refined film, though the virtuoso climax set to Iron Butterfly’s “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” points to the precise craftsmanship he would hone later in Heat and The Insider.
Manhunter is playing February 5 and March 6. A full schedule and ticket information is available at tiff.net.