The Silence Of The Lambs

This movie is now officially 16 years old.  It opened on a Thursday, February 14th, 1991 and was one of the most talked about films that year.  Gene Siskel famously panned it.  In 1992, it became the third film to win the 5 major prizes at The Academy Awards – Best Picture, Actor, Actress, Adapted Screenplay and Director.  (It Happened One Night and One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest were the others.)  Since its blockbuster release it has seeped into the consciousness of popular culture the world over.  It has spawned a sequel, a remake and a recent prequel.
 
The first time I saw The Silence Of The Lambs was in the summer of 1991, not too long after I read the original novel.  (Incredibly, it was still being exhibited in cinemas across North America.)  It was very late at night in an American hotel room.  The film was available on a pay-per-view basis, only a month before its home video debut.  My mom was going to watch it with me but she dozed off.  She woke up wondering when the movie was going to start.  By that point, it had just ended.  (We were in The States for some dance competition.  She was a teacher and she had some students competing in The Showstoppers event down in South Carolina.)  My family eventually screened it when they rented it later in the year.  I believe I watched it with them.
 
As I mentioned in my previous posting, this was the last film I wrote about for my unseen collection of reviews entitled The Movie Critic: Book One.  Why did I stop?  Several reasons:  The Student Council debacle, the pressure to do well in my last year of high school and general depression.  Like the review of Batman Returns, this assessment of Lambs has never seen the light of day.
 
I’ve seen the film at least 4 times since 1991.  One of my oldest friends screened the movie at his house either in 1992 or 1993 but it was an awful experience.  (This was my third time seeing it.)  I remember there were these two yappy broads who wouldn’t shut up while the movie was playing.  They had to be told to shut their collective cakeholes which, thankfully, they did.  Unfortunately, once someone starts going on and on during a screening I get all George Costanza inside and get very annoyed.  I can’t enjoy a movie unless I can hear myself think all the way through.
 
The last time I screened the movie had to be in March 1993, which inspired this review.  Like Batman Returns, it required a massive rewrite.
 
I never understood why they made more Hannibal Lecter movies.  With the exception of Manhunter, which was the first movie in this franchise, and Hannibal Rising, both of which I’ve not yet screened, the follow-ups to The Silence Of The Lambs have been very disappointing.  Speaking of Hannibal Rising, why would you ever make a movie like that without the participation of Anthony Hopkins?  Talk about foolhardy.
 
I’m disappointed that I didn’t single out the great Ted Levine.  He plays the real villain in the film and it’s quite the performance.  It’s hard to believe that this is the same actor who plays San Francisco Police Captain Leland Stottlemeyer on the hilarious crime series, Monk.  These two performances prove that this guy has got amazing range. 
 
One last thing.  One of my old high school pals loved this movie, particularly the Anthony Hopkins performance.  On more than one occasion, he loved to recite his favourite line from the film.  Remember that scene where Lecter meets Senator Ruth Martin, the mother of the kidnapped Catherine?  My pal loved saying Lecter’s killer bit at the end:  “Oh, and Senator, just one more thing:  love your suit.”.
 
 
the silence of the lambs
Restricted
118 minutes, 1991
Starring:
Jodie Foster — Clarice Starling
Anthony Hopkins — Dr. Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lecter   
Scott Glenn — Jack Crawford
Ted Levine — Jame Gumb  
Anthony Heald — Dr. Chilton         
Kasi Lemmons — Ardelia Mapp      
Produced by Edward Saxon, Kenneth Utt and Ron Bosman
Screenplay by Ted Tally
Music by Howard Shore
Directed by Jonathan Demme
 
In Jonathan Demme’s The Silence Of The Lambs, we learn about the ongoing pursuit of Buffalo Bill, a mysterious murderer who has already shot and killed five obese women and scraped the skin off each of their humongous backs.  Why is he doing this?  Only Bill knows for sure.
 
But another notorious serial killer, Dr. Hannibal Lecter (the outstanding Anthony Hopkins), might know as well.  He knew Bill’s dead lover, Benjamin Raspail.  The former shrink lost his way when he developed an unhealthy taste for human flesh.  He’s safely tucked away in a glass cage in a mental institution where his depraved imagination can run wild without scarring any more victims.
 
The hero of this story is FBI trainee, Clarice Starling (an Oscar-winning performance by Jodie Foster).  She is an intelligent and courageous woman who hopes to work in the behavioural science division after graduation where the files of serial killers are accessible.  Despite her strong qualities, she sometimes struggles during her training.  She’s a rookie about to get in over her head with the Buffalo Bill case.
 
One day during her outdoor training she is asked to speak with Jack Crawford (Scott Glenn), the head agent at behavioural science.  (They have a history together.  Starling once bashed one of Crawford’s opinions but was rewarded with an A-.  Despite being smart she still has a long way to go before completing her training.)  Crawford explains to her that the division is creating several psychological profiles on many of its apprehended subjects.  This will help the agents greatly when they are searching for new serial killers such as the elusive Buffalo Bill.  He requests that Starling interrogate one such killer who, unlike the others in custody, has been reluctant to fill out a questionnaire.
 
Yes, it’s Dr. Hannibal Lecter, the formerly reknowned Baltimore psychiatrist who was caught devouring his patients, the naughty bugger.  Reluctantly, Starling accepts the difficult task and heads out to the insane asylum.
 
Their first meeting feels nervous and awkward without hitting any false notes.  Lecter is coy, calm, collected and in control.  He doesn’t get worked up over this encounter because he likes Clarice and he knows how to play her.  She flashes her fake FBI badge to his face but Lecter isn’t stupid.  He knows she’s still in training.  He interacts with her in a kind manner until she brings up the questionnaire.  Then, he gives her a hard time hoping to break her but Starling, despite her inexperience, is no shrinking violet.  Still, the matter remains unresolved.
 
Then, she tries to leave the place with her dignity.  Fat chance of that happening.  Emboding discouragement as she walks away, she is soon startled when a fellow inmate, Multiple Miggs, flings his love juice right into her face.  Lecter calls her back to him and from that point on, Starling relies on this strange, devious monster for information that may very well help capture another merciless murderer.
 
An interesting twist occurs when the killer snatches the chubby daughter of a very concerned U.S. Senator (Brooke Smith).  The helpless, young woman is just what Bill has been looking for.  When we learn why he does what he does, it’s absolutely creepy.
 
The Silence Of The Lambs is a terrific, realistic thriller skillfully directed by Oscar-winner Jonathan Demme.  The ending is especially impressive with its clever use of technology and old-fashioned suspense.  Anthony Hopkins deservedly earned his Best Actor Oscar even though he’s only in the movie for about 20 minutes.  He makes the most of his limited screen time by masterfully underplaying the fascinating Hannibal Lecter.  A lesser actor would’ve hammed it up big time.  Hopkins finds the humanity in this horrible, horrible man.  Oscar-winning screenwriter Ted Tally (who adapted the story from Thomas Harris’ equally entertaining novel) supplies him with some wonderful dialogue.  It’s a special, iconic performance.
 
I also enjoyed Jodie Foster’s work, especially her character’s Southern drawl.  We care about her and worry about her in scene after scene.  Is taking on Lecter and Bill too much for her?  Can she really overcome her training difficulties to become the new pride of the Bureau?  It’s a very good performance delivered by one of the best actresses working in the movies today.  Also, there’s a lot more going on with her than we realize.  When Lecter brings up a painful childhood memory of hers it’s clear she has never gotten over that dark period of her life.
 
And how about Anthony Heald who is witty and creepy as Dr. Chilton?  He is also fun to watch playing an unlikeable physician at the insane asylum whose past blunders come back to haunt him.
 
The musical score by Howard Shore works really well, especially the selection used during the end titles.  He does a wonderful job capturing the predominant mood of fear.
 
The movie is genuinely scary without relying on old tricks.  Sometimes, I wonder if it could’ve been even more horrific.  We’ll never know.  None-the-less, that’s a minor, overly picky quibble.  This is a terrific film.
 
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Wednesday, February 14, 2007
11:57 p.m.
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Published in: on February 14, 2007 at 11:41 pm  Leave a Comment  

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