This is the first film adaptation of one of Thomas Harris's Hannibal novels, as well as the only one (so far) to have a remake. This version of Red Dragon strays quite far from the source material, and even changes character names to Lektor and Dollarhyde, but as a police procedural and a tense psychological thriller/killer film, it is absolutely wonderful.
Brett Ratner's Red Dragon followed the book far closer, and had a lot of good things about it, but let's be honest, it just feels very warmed over unremarkable. Plus, Mann is a far better director, hands down.
That's what really makes this film work. For those who don't know the plot: Will Graham is a retired FBI profiler who reluctantly gets back into the game to help hunt down an emerging killer known as the "Tooth Fairy". In order to get inside his head and get a better grasp on the man Graham seeks the aid of another serial killer named Hannibal Lektor, a man Graham had previously captured and almost lost his life in the process.
This is a really gripping and absorbing thriller that is intelligently written, wonderfully acted, and brilliantly shot, scored, and directed. The film gives a finely observed portrait of the forensic investigation process, and the emotional and psychological toll it can take. I love how the film is also very subtle and patient, heightening the tension and suspense, and causing a continually lingering feeling of unease.
All of this of course comes through with the things I mentioned above. I'm not really big on synth based music (barrign a few exceptions), but it fits perfectly here, despite somewhat dating the film. The use of Iron Butterfly's "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" is absolutely brilliant and ranks as one of the two best uses of it in popular culture. Frequent Mann collaborator Dante Spinotti once again does an excellent job with the cinematography with some excellent uses of light, framing, and angles to heighten the mood and themes.
You should really give this film a chance. It's a tightly plotted and engaging thriller with brains and a high level of artistic competantcy. Willima Petersen gives a great performance as the determined and haunted Graham, Tom Noonan is very creepy and chilling as the "Tooth Fairy" Francis Dollarhyde, Dennis Farina puts in good work as Graham's superior Jack Crawford, Stephen Lang is effectively scuzzy as a mangy tabloid journalist, and Brian Cox does a fanatastic and nicely nuanced and subtle job of playing Lektor. It's a more grounded performance than the one Anthony Hopkins would later give, but it's just as chilling if not more so.
Again, give this a shot. It's some tremendous stuff and a great reminder of why, even though he's gone a bit downhill as of late, Michael Mann is one of the best and most important directors of the past 50 years.