The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
“Dr. Hannibal Lecter. Brilliant. Cunning. Psychotic.”
Director: Jonathan Demme
Cast: Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, Lawrence A. Bonney
Synopsis: A young F.B.I. cadet must confide in an incarcerated and manipulative killer to receive his help on catching another serial killer who skins his victims.
It’s easy to forget that Hannibal Lecter isn’t the primary villain of Jonathan Demme’s Silence of the Lambs. That privilege goes to Ted Levine’s Jame Gumb – or Buffalo Bill, as he is more frequently referred to – but, such is the impact Anthony Hopkins made as the creepily neat, precise and largely unblinking Lecter, that Levine’s character is largely overlooked. It’s Lecter’s complete control, his effortless intimidation of everyone around him, even while held in a prison cell, that makes him so frightening. Clarice Starling can barely stop herself from trembling in his presence during their first meeting, and the cops who seek him out during his escape bid later in the movie are bathed in nervous sweat, such is his influence. Monsters like Lecter, (when given screen time to breathe, which Brian Cox’s incarnation in Manhunter was not), come along only once in a generation, and Hopkins chilling performance is so convincing that it transformed his career.
Jodie Foster plays Clarice Starling, the rookie FBI investigator tasked with persuading convicted killer Hannibal Lecter (Hopkins) to help the agency’s hunt for Buffalo Bill, a serial killer who abducts young women and then skins them. Clarice is an intelligent, resourceful and ambitious agent, but there’s evidence in her manner of speech and nervous facial gestures that she is driven by some past trauma. Lecter, formerly a psychiatrist, immediately latches onto this flaw in Starling’s otherwise perfectly constructed facade of control – a benign version of Lecter’s own dominating personality – and agrees to co-operate with the agency only if he can question her about her past.
Silence of the Lambs is one of those movies in which some of the parts are greater than the whole. So powerful is Hopkins performance – and so well-written is his character – that we tend to overlook the glaring plot holes, the stupid decisions made by apparently intelligent people, and that misfiring stunt in which the audience is tricked into thinking its watching one situation unfold when actually it’s watching something else entirely. Yeah, that sequence has a certain wow factor, but it’s a pretty shoddy trick, and one that temporarily catapults the viewer out of the movie. If the entire movie was as exceptional as the scenes shared by Hopkins and Foster it would undoubtedly be a bona fide classic, but other aspects such as the workmanlike protege relationship between Starling and Scott Glenn’s FBI agent and practically everything about the Buffalo Bill sub-plot (you know Bill – the only man with a 20-foot well in his house) drag it down to a level that, while transcending the ordinary, only just manages to do so.
(Reviewed 11th September 2012)