Tuesday, 28 September 2010

SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (1991) ****(1/2)

"To enter the mind of a killer she must challenge the mind of a madman"

One of the most renowned thrillers of recent years becomes the latest big-name film to be reviewed by moi, a brilliantly adapted story from Jonathan Demme makes this one of THE great edge-of-your seat films as SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (1991), sets the standards for the serial killer genre with two fantastic lead performances, clever writing and some memorable moments that spawned two prequels and a sequel that never lived up to the standard of the original classic. Despite the mainstream appeal of the film, the grainy lighting and laid-back budget give it an art-house feel that sets it apart from other such films that were as successful. The film manages some effectively disturbing scenes that make it a not altogether pleasant viewing experience. However it is best watched with some flava beans and a nice Chianti...

FBI starlet Clarice Starling (Oscar winner Jodie Foster) gets given the tough task of interviewing a notorious cannibal by her boss Jack Crawford (Scott Glenn) as part of an investigation that is going on which sees a crazed serial-killer named Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine) traveling round various states kidnapping women and torturing them before killing them and using their skin as clothing. The FBI are keen to track down Bill but need Clarice to speak to murderous Doctor Hannibal Lecter (Oscar winner Anthony Hopkins) about his association with Bill years earlier when he was a teacher. The two have a good conversation that eventually goes sour because Lecter becomes annoyed with Calrice's attempts at "dissecting" him. Clarice leaves but after an unsavory incident with another patient in the next cell, Lecter calls her back and gives her a riddle containing information of a former patient of his. This riddle leads to a severed head and eventually Lecter offers to profile Bill in return for a transfer from his current facility. In the meantime Bill strikes again, abducting a young woman named Catherine Martin (Brooke Smith) who turns out to be the daughter of a United States Senator (Diane Baker). A fake deal is offered to Hannibal who agrees, but then discovers it not to be true. A new deal is then made with the Senator's permission which then sees Lecter being transported to Tennessee where he reveals all the information he knows about Buffalo Bill.

The severed head found had belonged to the lover of Bill. He also gives the real name of Bill, but Clarice believes it to be false information, possibly an anagram. She confronts Lecter about the false information he gave the senator. Lecter refuses to share until Clarice reveals the truth of her worst childhood memory. She does so, and Lecter gives the Buffalo Bill case file to her before being escorted away. That night Lecter escapes his cell, brutally killing two police officers in the process. He escapes by pretending to be one of the officers, wearing his face over his own (one of the most horrid but brilliant moments in film). Clarice is notified of Lecter's escape, before diving into the case file, trying to find information until she discovers Bill knew one of the victims before her murder. Clarice travels to the victim's hometown where she realizes Bill is tailoring a woman suite made from flesh. Throughout the film, he has kept Catherine in a well in his basement but is clearly obsessed with his female victim's skins as he yearns to be a transvestite. Clarice then tells Crawford who informs her that they're on their way to pick up Bill, who has been identified with a real name. Clarice realizes Crawford is wrong, and while she continues interviewing around the town she discovers she's found her man leading to a tensioned ending through Bill's basement, that leaves the audience wondering what will become of the characters, another questioned to be answered is what has become of Hannibal Lecter?

The mood of this film is heightened by Jonathan Demme's great direction, with such detail in all the sets and locations. The film is made with a great attention to detail and is without a doubt an American classic though widely loved across the globe. Entering the incarceration with Clarice is a classic movie sequence, as are many more throughout the film. Director Demme draws out the Lecter introduction scene, building our anticipation for Hannibal. When we finally stand there in front of him with Clarice, we realize what all the hype was about. Lecter is only on screen for sixteen minutes but Hopkins uses these sixteen minutes to create one of the most wicked villains that film has ever seen (in fact he was named AFI's greatest villain in film). He remains behind bars or in restraints for all but a couple of those minutes, yet he's still able to create a strong fear. The audience are left afraid of the man, but would love to have a conversation with him. His charm and personality becomes so inviting that many would take the risk of ending up as one of his entrées. Foster is just as subtle with her performance but not the best Oscar winning performance by a female star. Creating such a strong female character is not an easy task, but Foster does makes it look so. Clarice holds her on not only against the men at her department, Buffalo Bill, but Hopkins as well. The scenes between these two great actors are just so much fun to watch, plain and simple. Demme uses a style of shooting with his cinematographer that has the actors staring straight at the camera. This isolates characters, making conversations more intimate, putting you in the film, experiencing it with the characters. It's a simple thing, but it goes a long way. The visuals, music, tight script, performances and pacing all work in greatness to create a unique film. My only negative about the film is the tendancy to drag out with certain scenes while Brooke Smith as the female hostage overacts to a great extent with her constant cries for help and by the end you can't help but feel she needed to be silenced but that becomes the only flaw of this great film. The Silence of the Lambs is one of the best psychological thrillers. Thomas Harris's best selling book is faithfully transferred to the screen. It's one dark twisted disturbing ride. Ffffffffffff!


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