Beyond The goonies, from Gremlins or from Return to the future, there are still many films produced in the 80s to recover from the recycling bins of the collective memory. And these are not necessarily works that are difficult to access. A production like Hunter, born with commercial ambitions and signed by a director who combines success and critical prestige (the Michael Mann of Heat or Public Enemies) has fallen into a certain oblivion, although it was the first audiovisual appearance of the well-known psychiatrist and cannibal Hannibal Lecter (Lecktor in the film).
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Hunter is one of those 100% eighties that may come as a surprise that they are not more present in the nostalgic loop that has characterized recent pop culture. Perhaps the fact of being an independent production of the great Hollywood studios (although it was promoted by the powerful Dino De Laurentiis) and the vicissitudes of belonging to the catalog of a Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in lasting crisis have had something to do with all this.
Beyond the circumstances, the qualities of this thriller hyperstilized psychological, whose commitment to leave a mark on the visual section may recall the aesthetic proposals of contemporary authors such as Ridley Scott of Blade runner or Black rain or the Tony Scott of The anxiety. Like the latter, Hunter it is an extremely striking pop artifact. And that is clear from the opening scenes, marked by an expressionist use of color and by the location of the dialogues between beautiful architecture and idyllic landscapes of sky and beach.
The main person in charge of all this was a young Michael Mann who had already excelled with his debut film Thief, a narratively understated and visually appealing foray into the criminal chase of the American dream: a car salesman and jewel heist who wants the corresponding last hit to buy a house and retire with his girl. Mann had played his second album, Strength, and had emerged again as a showrunner from the hit series Corruption in Miami. Hunter it would not be particularly well received and the filmmaker would be slow to return to the big screen with The last Mohican.
At the edge of the abyss
Besides being a thriller psychological, Hunter is a drama about a man who gets into the psyches of serial killers to the point of putting his own sanity at risk. Will Graham is an FBI agent, prematurely retired after being brutally attacked and after suffering a psychological collapse, who returns to active duty to catch an executor of families. On their shoulders falls the burden of being seen as the person most capable of quickly catching their target and saving the maximum number of lives.
The same story would be told again on the big screen by The Red Dragon, another adaptation of the homonymous novel by Thomas Harris (which would also be revised in the television series Hannibal). In that new version, a greater role would be reserved for Anthony Hopkins’ Lecter, after the British actor’s work in The silence of the lambs and Hannibal became something of a popular phenomenon. And this may be another point that has caused dissatisfaction: the comparison established between the talented manipulator played by Hopkins, as refined as he is brutal, and the more mundane Lecktor played by Brian Cox. It has a certain paradoxical air that a film posed as an aesthetic spectacle of almost blinding beauties and quite deep darkness includes such an inconspicuous look at the character that other hands would make iconic.
If the comparisons with The silence of the lambs, Hunter it shines with its own brilliance. Mann and his team went for a highly contrived but potentially sweeping aesthetic. The show of pop art 80s Hollywood, in addition, gives away some memorable scenes. It is uncomfortable when murky sexualities and homicidal impulses are combined when portraying an antagonist’s date with a blind woman: he alternates his glances at the body of the woman next to him with his attention to a television where home movies of his next target appear. And it thrills when it reflects a panic attack that the protagonist suffers after visiting Lecktor.
Those responsible for the film also made extensive use of music. Unlike what happened in Thief or Strength, Mann did not count on the synthetic sounds of the Tangerine Dream formation and collected compositions from various sources. The closing pictures of Hunter are accompanied, almost presided over, by the song unleashed eighties Heartbeat, of the ephemeral group Red 7. In the initial minutes of Return to the future, the notes of The power of love they opened the door to a story of adventure and youthful love. Heartbeart it stages the possibility of a final healing, to the beat of electronic pop melodies, after a gloomy journey into very dark spaces of the mind and desire.
Hunter it is still a film with a commercial vocation. He does not go into bare-chested horror, but he does soak his feet in the abyss. And it does so with its contradictions and frictions. Even if you avoid any temptation to fall into the movie theater sexploitation, the visual beauty of some frames may seem inadequate if the sinister nature of the narration is taken into account. The images connote a dualistic vision of life: Graham’s family paradise, threatened by his very role as protector of society, is opposed to the hell inhabited by those who want to become a red dragon. Even so, the director and screenwriter insists on raising uncomfortable similarities between the obsessive hero and the murderers he pursues, on throwing bridges that connect both worlds in disturbing ways. Until Graham can return home and haven with duty accomplished.