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The Silence Of The Lambs

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: The Silence Of The Lambs

Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Jodie Foster
Director: Jonathan Demme
Rated: R
RunTime: 118 Minutes
Release Date: February 1991
Genres: Classic, Horror, Suspense

*Also starring: Scott Glenn, Ted Levine, Anthony Heald, Brooke Smith, Diane Baker, Charles Napier, Roger Corman, Chris Isaak

Reviewer Roundup
1.  Dragan Antulov review follows movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewmovie review
2.  Jerry Saravia read the review ---

Review by Dragan Antulov
4 stars out of 4

In the last quarter of century Academy Awards ceased to be indicator of movie's quality, as well as its importance in history of Seventh Art. Too many over hyped titles won multitudes of golden statues only to sink to oblivion after a year or two. So, when Academy Award winner avoids this sad fate, it must be treated as extraordinary piece of filmmaking. One of such rare titles is THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, 1991 thriller directed by Jonathan Demme. Perhaps this is not among the best films of the previous decade, but it is definitely one of the most influential - both by creating film trends that last to this day and by becoming part of our popular culture.

The plot of the film is based on the best-selling novel by Thomas Harris, sequel to RED DRAGON (which had been used as the basis for Michael Mann's MANHUNTER five years earlier), and it deals with law enforcement's attempts to catch vicious serial killer, nicknamed "Buffalo Bill" due to his habit of kidnapping, killing and skinning his female victims. Jack Crawford (played by Scott Glen), head of Behavioral Science Unit - FBI's think-thank specialised for profiling psychopaths and similar sorts of serial offenders - uses any means to catch the killer, so he recruits young FBI trainee Clarice Starling (played by Jodie Foster). Her task is to interview renowned psychiatrist Dr. Hannibal Lecter (played by Anthony Hopkins) and possibly get some information about the killer. What makes this task anything but routine is the fact that Lecter himself is homicidal maniac, locked up in Baltimore asylum for the series of vicious cannibalistic murders. Lecter agrees to help Clarice, but he does it in the form of near-sadistic mind-game in which he dissects Starling's personal life in exchange for his help with investigation. In the meantime, the investigation gets new dimension of urgency when another kidnap victim turns out to be the daughter of powerful U.S. senator.

It is easy to explain why THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS stands out among all the Academy Award winners in last twenty-five year or so. Few films in the history of Seventh Art provided such a powerful combination of thought-provoking content and artistic skill. The achievement seems even greater when we consider that the director Jonathan Demme had enjoyed reputation of B- director, specialised in cheap, and often light-hearted films. But THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, probably the best film in his career, shows the trademarks of cinema genius and someone quite capable to deal with the darkest aspects of human life. Like few filmmakers before and after, Demme explores the darkest pits of human depravity, and, consequently, the atmosphere in the film, made by Tak Fujimoto's photography and Howard Shore's minimalist but effective musical score, is dark from the beginning to the end. The tone is also very serious - Demme is less interested in sensationalism; there are few shocking discoveries; various forms of pathological behaviour are discussed with clinical distance; and the most gruesome violence is shown indirectly. But the best quality of this film is in its humanism - Demme wants the audience to know that, despite the horrors and despair, there is still place for decency, love and respect in this world. This is shown through the small, but precious moments when our protagonist sees compassion, either in the form of county official who is still disgusted with the sight of murder of hospital orderly who says few encouraging words to our heroine before her first meeting with ultimate evil.

THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS is definitely director's film, but in popular consciousness the names associated with it belong to actors. Among them the best known is Anthony Hopkins, whose "Oscar"-awarded performance is probably going to be viewed as the zenith of this actor's career. Hopkins truly deserved his golden statue and his achievement is even greater when we consider that it was given for the portrayal of incredibly evil and abhorrent character - man who uses almost supernatural abilities of his superb intellect in order to harm other human beings in any form imaginable. Hopkins took great effort to make this character not only believable, but almost seductive in his evil, trying to convince us that his malice springs from higher intellectual plane that transcends traditional morality and that he is beyond the grasp of mere mortals. In order to do so, Hopkins also portrayed Lecter as well-educated and refined man whose good manners and artistic sensibilities not only stand out in contrast with his violent, evil nature, but also show inherent superiority over common people. This aristocratic serial killer was so fascinating that he became the best-known villain in cinema history, but also had misfortune of creating another Hollywood cliche, recycled over and over again, until Hopkins himself didn't make caricature of it in dreadful HANNIBAL ten years later.

Hopkins' performance in THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS overshadowed everyone else's, and that included even Jodie Foster, despite her earning another "Oscar", and despite her character being potentially even more fascinating and complex than Lecter. Perhaps this is due to the mere fact of Clarice Starling being more down-to-earth and being some sort of moral anchor to the audience. Starling's professional aim - preventing another murder - corresponds with the cleansing of her own personal demons, while she must also fight to earn her rightful place in FBI as a petite and seemingly vulnerable woman among men who unconsciously treat her more like a sex object than as a colleague. This complex portrayal, which also added romantic dimension in almost perverse relation between Starling and Lecter, might not be Foster's best role, but it is definitely the best known. Together with Foster there were many great actors in memorable roles - Scott Glen as her mentor, Anthony Heald as machiavelistic head of asylum, Diane Baker as powerful politician and, finally, Brooke Smith who gained 25 pounds for the purpose of her role - achievement which is quite rare among today's weight-obsessed Hollywood actresses. Ted Levine as her demented tormentor was also very effective, or even too effective for his career, since the actor had very limited choice of roles after this film, almost being condemned to play variation of same psychotic character all over again.

Levine's role also had important consequences beyond his career. His character just happened to have some issues with his gender/sexual orientation and that wasn't acceptable thing for Hollywood in early 1990s, during the zenith of Political Correctness. Pressured by gay activists that accused Hollywood filmmakers of promoting homophobia, studios responded by creating another cliche and refusing to portray gays other than saintly characters in all subsequent movies. But another, more important cliche, was created by THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS - after Lecter villains in serial killer movies always turned into larger-than-life creatures - criminal supermen, aristocrats with material and intellectual resources to turn every murder into jigsaw puzzle with the complexity worthy of German General Staff planners. This new serial killer mythology, of course, doesn't have anything to do with real life - serial killers are usually more prosaic, quiet, insignificant, stupid and usually quite pathetic creatures far bellow intellectual capacities of Lecter. (And this "serial killer as superman" cliche is quite ironic for the film that used advisor's services of John Douglas, legendary FBI agent that made career out of profiling serial killers and later described his real life experience with them in his book MIND HUNTER.) However, despite creating some trends that weren't particularly healthy for Hollywood in past decade or so, THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS is nevertheless one powerful, thought-provoking and surprisingly well-made film that earned its status of classic.

Copyright 2002 Dragan Antulov

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