|SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (1991)|
|"They don't have a name for what he is."|
|Time: 118 mins.|
Won Academy Awards for Best Actor (Hopkins), Actress (Foster), Adapted Screenplay, Director and Best Picture. Nominated for Best Film Editing and Sound.
SILENCE OF THE LAMBS is without a doubt the most gruesome film to ever win an Academy Award. Was it the best film of 1991? Compared to the others it was up against, it still comes out ahead as a powerfully compelling cinema experience. It's also one of the creepiest movies ever, though after the extensive body count in 90s flicks, it no longer has the shock value it once did. However, considering the over-the-top freak show of HANNIBAL, I was impressed, after a recent re-watching, with Demme's level of restraint in the midst of portraying madness. Since I already knew the plot I was free to sit back and really enjoy the dynamic interplay between Foster and Hopkins the real treat of this film. It is his portrayal of Hannibal Lector that introduced Hopkins to the eyes of the world. He was a fairly successful actor before that point, but this role broke his career wide open for a very good reason. He's scary as hell and you can't take your eyes off him.
What makes him more than your everyday villain is the piercing intelligence and irresistible charm he brings to the role. He'd make a lovely dinner companion, if you could trust him not to make you dessert. His connection to Foster's character, FBI Agent Clarice Starling is explosive. Their relationship is the core of the film, what makes it more than your regular serial killer thriller. She has nothing to fear from him because she treats him with respect and honesty. He admires her for overcoming the odds of her birth and sex, by becoming a strong and intelligent woman willing to fight for what she believes in. Her desperate ambition to prove herself makes her an open book to his probing nature. She needs his help to save the latest kidnap victim of the brutal Buffalo Bill from becoming another ugly statistic. Her success with this case will not only save a life, but solidify her fledgling place withing the bureau. They strike a bargain to help each other, but the ultimate price is almost too high.
Foster's performance gives this otherwise cold and brutal film suspense and heart. Though she's our hero, you're never quite sure if she's up to the task. Foster imbues Clarice with such humanity one can't help but feel connected to her and her pain. On the surface, this film is a thriller about catching a killer, but if that's all it was about it'd be just another KISS THE GIRLS and not an Oscar-winner. Clarice's main battle is with herself and the perceptions of those around her. The capture of Buffalo Bill is merely an exercise, giving her a testing ground to prove to the world, and herself, that she's as good as she thinks she is. Once you know where the story is going, the case becomes less important and the inner struggle emerges as the real challenge. Will she have what it takes when the chips come down? What glues you to the screen is Foster, whose every emotion plays out beautifully across her chiseled features. It's no wonder she grabbed onto this role. Actresses rarely find ones this meaty. Thankfully, she declined to reprise in HANNIBAL. Moore does an adequate job with the character, but the role is all bad compared to the original.
As for Demme, this is the best film of his career. He managed to take a B-Movie topic and turn it into one of the biggest mainstream studio films of the year. It's a movie without unnecessary excess, with all its' many facets from acting to music to cinematography to editing and story all merging perfectly in the telling of the tale. It runs the gamut of emotions while still capturing a clever wit and a searing intelligence. Though complex, it's never complicated, playing out at an engaging pace destined to entrance you with it's abject horror and sense of injustice. The film has almost a clinical feel, which makes the unpleasant aspects more palatable and focuses the attention where it belongs: on the rivalry between Clarice and Hannibal. The mutual respect and loathing behind both their eyes is electric. Neither can understand why the other is wasting their brilliance she in a worthless government job, he in senseless human destruction. To each his own. They each end up getting what they want, but neither come away from the fray satisfied. It's a major disappointment that HANNIBAL didn't live up to the intensity and simplicity of this film. A must-see thriller one shouldn't watch alone.