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Review: The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Directed by: Jonathan Demme

Premise: FBI trainee Clarice Starling (Jodi Foster) interacts with incarcerated serial killer Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins), who may have clues to the identity of another serial killer known as Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine).

What Works: The Silence of the Lambs is one of the rare cases where all elements of a film work in such synchronicity so as to be as close to perfect as possible. The acting, writing, cinematography, and sound are terrific and complement each other rather than competing for attention. Among the actors, Jodi Foster gives a great performance as Clarice Starling and the role remains one of the best female characters ever seen in a Hollywood film; the writing for female roles in Hollywood is notoriously poor and attempts to remedy that often risk robbing female roles of femininity or vulnerability. The writing and Foster’s performance don’t do that and as a result The Silence of the Lambs allows Starling to be vulnerable and strong, which ultimately makes her more heroic. The flashy role in the film is Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter, and his performance stands alongside Bela Lugosi in Dracula, Health Ledger in The Dark Knight and Robert Mitchum in Night of the Hunter among the all time great film villains. Hopkins’ performance sneaks ahead of his challengers in his ability to convey intelligence and dignity and contrast that humanity with savage violence. This makes Hannibal Lecter ultimately a tragic figure who is a good man trapped in a mad shell. The relationship between Lecter and Starling gives Silence of the Lambs an emotional grounding that enriches the rest of the drama and elevates the film above other entries in the horror and detective genres. Less flashy but no less impressive is Ted Levine as Buffalo Bill. Levine is in many ways the opposite of Lecter in his sloppiness and lack of decorum, but Levine also exhibits the pain of a psychologically traumatized man and the actor gets maximum impact out of very few scenes. Aside from the acting performances, Silence of the Lambs is also an extremely well designed film. The cinematography moves effortlessly between subjective and objective angles and different formats and uses them to full effect. The sound also contributes a lot to the film including the score by Howard Shore and a sound design that has many great subtle details in it.

What Doesn’t: The finale of The Silence of the Lambs does rely on a pretty big act of coincidence. The payoff is there, but getting Starling and Buffalo Bill together is a lapse in story credibility.

DVD extras: The two-disc Collector’s Edition of The Silence of the Lambs includes, trailers, TV spots, a photo gallery, outtakes, deleted scenes, recipes, featurettes, and documentaries.

Bottom Line: The Silence of the Lambs is one of the great modern thrillers. It is one of those films where everything comes together and the film tells a riveting detective story while also reinventing the horror film.

Episode: #258 (October 4, 2009)