Movie #77: The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Director: Jonathan Demme

Starring: Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, Scott Glenn, Anthony Heald, and Ted Levine

Academy Awards (1992):

Best Actor in a Leading Role: Anthony Hopkins

Best Actress in a Leading Role: Jodie Foster

Best Director: Jonathan Demme

Best Picture: Edward Saxon, Kenneth Utt, Ronald M. Bozman

Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium: Ted Tally

Academy Award Nominations:

Best Film Editing: Craig McKay

Best Sound: Tom Fleischman, Christopher Newman

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Clarice Starling (Foster), a FBI trainee agent, is sent to interview convicted psychopath Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Hopkins).  The FBI is trying to find Buffalo Bill (Levine), a serial killer who kidnaps, starves, kills, and skins his victims, his latest being the daughter of a U.S. Senator.

As with many great films, The Silence of the Lambs sets itself apart as both a horror and thriller film with two strong lead characters, suspenseful story lines, and just enough tension to keep the audience engaged and on the edge of their seats.

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It goes without saying that any Hannibal Lecter film has to have Anthony Hopkins.  The look on his face in his first encounter with Starling, and subsequently the way he spoke sent chills through me.  Without knowing anything about his past, I would have been bothered by those two things.  His character is very wise, tactful, and finds the right balance and timing when it comes to withholding or revealing information.

Jodie Foster gives a great balance of the young but wise beyond her years Clarice Starling.  Though she is young and probably looked down upon for her inexperience, she keeps a strong enough front even when she’s completely intimidated and scared.  Her background in psychoanalysis yet being haunted by experiences from her childhood are handled wonderfully by Foster.

Visually this film does a great job of building up suspense with the audience.  I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect with the opening sequence.  Perhaps someone was running from Buffalo Bill, in the end it was simply Foster’s character running the FBI obstacle course.  The prison scenes, either at the institution or at Buffalo Bill’s house, give that eerie creepy feeling.

Though this film has its twists and turns, at the same time there were some things that seemed like a give-away.  When they transferred Lecter to Memphis, you had to know he would break out.  The way in which he did it, skinning one of the officer’s faces, the bait-and-switch, made up for the predictability of his escape.

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In particular, the night vision scene at the end of the film, though it felt like a second-rate first person shooter video game at times, does a great job of building that suspense as Bill toyed with Starling in his basement.  The times when he reached out his hand were particularly disturbing.  I felt this scene actually dragged a little bit and could have been 15 to 20 seconds shorter and kept the same effect.

The Silence of the Lambs, though not a film I would go out of my way to see, is one I can appreciate and understand its significance as both a horror and thriller film.  Hopkins’ portrayal of Lecter is both disturbing and brilliant at the same time, and I found myself both repulsed and at times mildly sympathetic as he and Starling worked together to catch Buffalo Bill.  

I watched Hannibal a few years ago, and I’d have to watch it again to see what I think of Julianne Moore’s Clarice Starling,  I don’t plan on watching this film again, but in a small way I’m glad I watched it this time.

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

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