Tuesday, June 15, 2010

“It rubs the lotion on its skin or else it gets the hose again.”

Yet another film from the “you HAVEN’T see this one yet?” pile, here comes 1991’s The Silence Of The Lambs, from Jonathan Demme, director of the blunt force drama Rachel Getting Married.

So, we’ve got a young, ambitious FBI trainee called in to try and persuade a former psychiatrist-turned cannibalistic serial killer into helping her (and by extension the government) track down a serial killer on the loose. The movie and book it’s based on are both the sequels to a novel called Red Dragon that was the 1986 movie Manhunter. Silence itself got a sequel: Hannibal, and then a new version of Red Dragon/remake of Manhunter. Confused yet? Don’t worry too much about it since Silence is the most famous of the franchise.

Clarice Starling: Jodie Foster is our plucky young hero who’s trying to crack this “Buffalo Bill” serial killer case wide open. She’s fine enough in the film, though I can’t say I’m impressed with the performance, largely because I can’t get over her Southern accent. Still, as far as protagonists go, she’s not bad and happens to be the only person that Hannibal Lecter would even consider talking to about the case. She’s also got a lot of baggage in her past, like her father being murdered and her being raised on a farm where, among other critters, there were sheep, which eventually gets around to explaining the title of the story. Though I have to wonder why the FBI would place so much reliance on a young rookie instead of, oh, I dunno, one of their BEST agents?

Jack Crawford: Scott Glenn is Clarice’s boss and the guy who pulls her into the case, appealing to her sense of ambition.

“Buffalo Bill”: Ted Levine (who’s done a surprising amount of voiceover work) is the film’s primary Villain and… Jesus… It’s. Fucked. Up. I mean, the guy’s a bisexual white supremacist (or something like that) who is killing overweight women and skinning them in order to make a “woman suit” so that he can transform into a woman in his sick mind. Great. There goes my appetite for the rest of the day. About the only thing in the world he likes is his little dog, Precious.

Catherine Marton: Brooke Smith is “Buffalo Bill’s latest kidnapping victim who also happens to be a Senator’s daughter. This naturally ramps up the pressure for the FBI to find the killer before he can kill her.

Dr. Hannibal Lecter: Anthony Hopkins is, of course, the reason to watch this movie. He is the suave, cultured and thoroughly unhinged cannibal that the FBI reluctantly turns to in order to help profile Buffalo Bill. And it is a command performance, even though he’s technically a secondary character and not even in the movie all that much. There’s no question that the guy’s a remorseless killer who manipulates people to his own ends, but the dangerous part about him is that he’s just so damn charming about it. Hopkins is a fantastic actor and, somewhat begrudgingly (because Hannibal is a SERIAL KILLER himself) the badass of the film.

Directed by Jonathan Demme with cinematography by Tak Fujimoto. The film is well shot with lots of incredibly tense scenes. Mostly these are quiet dramatic conversations that wind up the characters and watch them interact, but there is one action scene that kind of comes out of nowhere about ¾ through that displays just how dangerous Lecter really is.

Screenplay by Ted Tally and based on the novel “Silence of the Lambs” by Thomas Harris. It’s well done. It hits all the notes required for an effective psychological thriller about serial killers doing terrible things to people. Also quite quotable, evidenced by the sheer number of times it gets pop culture referenced in other works.

Howard Shore did the score and its been a while since I saw it, so I don’t remember any of the music, unfortunately. But it’s Howard Shore, so by no means is it bad.

The Silence of the Lambs is a very well made film and kind of required viewing for modern cinephiles. Artistically successful in its ambitions and thoroughly disturbing, I respect the film a hell of a lot for holding up a mirror to some truly gruesome stuff. But I don’t actually like the film, though I'm glad I saw it. I wouldn’t want it in my collection. Hell, I don’t even think I want to see it again. Ever. Just remembering it makes me want to go take a scalding hot shower. So well done, movie, you’ve earned my respect AND revulsion.

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