Sunday, February 21, 2016

The Silence Of The Lambs Review (Classic Write-Up)

25 years after its release, Hannibal Lector has become a James Bond-like figure in pop culture thanks to how a number of actors have put their own spin on the character. Before Anthony Hopkins played the cannibalistic intellectual in this 1991 feature film and its two subsequent follow-ups, Brian Cox took the reins of Hannibal in the Michael Mann feature Manhunter, while the 21st century would deliver takes on the Thomas Harris created character by actors Gaspard Ulliel and Mads Mikkelsen.

Like Bond, everyone's got their favorite (though conversations about the best Lector usually exclude one-off performer Ulliel, making him the George Lazenby of Hannibal Lector portrayals), and while I loooooove Mikkelsen as the devious psychopath, watching The Silence Of The Lambs for the very first time demonstrated quite perfectly why Hopkins is so revered for his performance here. He's not the singular most important character in the whole cast or the center of the plot. Like Darth Vader or the Jurassic Park raptors, he's clearly the bad guy that became a foe audiences love to hate that sequels wound end up placing a greater emphasis on. And hey, with Hopkins firing on all cylinders as Hannibal Lector, it's not hard to see why he caught the attention of both moviegoers around the world and the Academy Awards.

But, like I said, in this tale Hannibal is most certainly a supporting player to Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster), an FBI trainee whose trying to find information related to a sadistic killer dubbed Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine). That's where Lector comes in, as the FBI is looking to have him help deduce where this psychopath is. The main objective for Clarice is trying to extract crucial information from him before Buffalo Bill kills his newest victim, the daughter of a most powerful senator. Foster, armed with a southern twang and a tragic backstory that's smartly kept shrouded in just enough mystery throughout the film, makes for a great audience surrogate through all of this madness. Like us, she's terrified of the various pieces of brutal and sadistic violence she encounters, but in the face of such overwhelming terror, she acts how we hope and wish we would react in such scenarios, with impenetrable fortitude.

The conversations carried out between Clarice and Hannibal Lector (the latter encased in confinement for all but one of their dialogue exchanges) offer the chance to briefly discuss the importance of certain kinds of shots in movies, specifically the close-up. In The Silence Of The Lambs, all the conversations between Clarisse and Hannibal Lector are done in a head-on close-up manner that simulates each characters individual POV. There are no wide or pan-out shots in these sequences, director Johnathan Demme wants you, the viewer, placed directly into the dialogue exchanges and never have the rhythm of the intensity interrupted. It's all meticulously planned and executed, both from a visual standpoint (in terms of where the camera is placed) and in the exact words and sentences the duo trade back and forth.

Needless to say, such scenes are among the highlights of the entire picture, but they're not the only reason that The Silence Of The Lambs has endured as a classic for so long. Hopkins is of course incredible as Lector, but Foster also more than comes through as an engaging lead character. The script handles her being a woman in a male-dominated workspace in a most fascinating way, with one scene (shot from her POV) where numerous male police officers stare at her like she's a slab of meat at the local deli successfully shows that she has more to fear in her everyday life than just talking with serial killers.

Scott Glenn also pops up in a key supporting role, and it's cool to not only see a dude that talented show up in something this high of quality (it's waaaay better than seeing him in garbage like Sucker Punch, that's for sure) and also to see him looking so young! That's one of many surprises nestled in The Silence Of The Lambs, which you better believe is still a shocking and intense adventure two and a half decades later. And yes, Hopkins is now up there with Mikkelsen as my favorite on-screen portrayal of Hannibal Lector.

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