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The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
The Silence of the Lambs is a 1991 American thriller film that blends elements of the crime and horror genres. It was directed by Jonathan Demme and stars Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, Ted Levine, and Scott Glenn. It is based on the 1988 novel of the same name by Thomas Harris, his second to feature Hannibal Lecter, a brilliant psychiatrist and cannibalistic serial killer. In the film, Clarice Starling, a young FBI trainee, seeks the advice of the imprisoned Dr. Lecter to apprehend another serial killer, known only as "Buffalo Bill". The Silence of the Lambs was released on February 14, 1991, and grossed over $272 million. The film was the third film to win Oscars in all the top five categories: Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Actor, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay. It is also the first winner of Best Picture widely considered to be a horror film, and only the second such film to be nominated in the category (after The Exorcist in 1973). The film is considered "culturally, historically or aesthetically" significant by the US Library of Congress and was selected to be preserved in the National Film Registry in 2011.
The tango is led off by a trio of strange murders that are being investigated by bureau chief Jack Crawford (Scott Glenn). In haste, he recruits Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) from training to get insights into the murders from the perpetrator of Crawford's career-making case. Hannibal 'The Cannibal' Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) stands in his cell at attention, as if waiting patiently for Starling. From there, it is not without much psychological bartering that Hannibal begins to probe into the case of Buffalo Bill (the extraordinary Ted Levine), a serial killer who is kidnapping large women and skinning them for unknown reasons. Time becomes of the essence when it's revealed that his latest capture is a U.S. Senator's daughter (Brooke Smith). Lecter, ever the calculator, uses the bureau's panic to hatch his own scheme and to seek revenge on Dr. Chilton (Anthony Heald), the smarmy head of the prison Lecter is being held in.
Through a Rubik's Cube of style, narrative, and tone, Demme finds little problem in switching us from moral drama to shivering horror without warning, somehow being able to keep mood and tone balanced within these shifts.(He employed similar tactics in his 1986 masterpiece Something Wild, switching from romantic comedy to crime thriller within a blink.) What is especially key is the use of perspective, which is often put into first-person context. Has there ever been a scene as flat-out terrifying as when we look through Buffalo Bill's night vision goggles at a frantic Starling? Yet, a shot like that never seems gimmicky or obvious in the film's language, rather adding depth to a thoroughly intricate tome of psychological hula-hoops.
Hopkins knew what he was doing the whole time: He openly admits to asking for the tight-fitted prison fatigues, the slick hair combed to the back, and that glorious snivel he gives after he says 'Chianti.' Lecter doesn't fit so much to any idea of the repressed, but he is something uniquely frightening: a cultured beast of basic instinct, both the bourgeois dream and its unfathomable nightmare. That Hopkins makes him completely believable is a testament to the great actor and his (to this day) career performance. Where Hannibal is a classic monster creation, Foster has a more realistic and studied role to consider. She nails the weakness in Clarice's psychological armor but she is still a strong female presence. In the same year as Thelma & Louise, Starling seems to be one of the most honest portrayals of femininity to ever be put to film, not posing as female dominance or the quirky girl with the sensitive center. That these performances blend into the film's syntax without a flinch is an outright miracle.
The new Collector's Edition includes two discs, the second of which is packed with extras: Numerous making-of documentaries (old and new), outtakes, deleted scenes, and ephemera like an Anthony Hopkins 'promotional phone message' for your answering machine. In what is a rather genius stroke, Lecter's printed 'recipe cards' (heavy on fava beans) are also included. Highly recommended.
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