One of the most talked-about movies of 1991, multiple Academy Award-winner THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS was actually the second "Hannibal Lecter" film, Michael Mann having previously adapted the character from Thomas Harris's novel Red Dragon in 1986's MANHUNTER. But Jonathan Demme's taut
thriller proved to have a much greater impact on the public imagination.
FBI trainee Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) is recruited by the Bureau's behavioral sciences unit to help track down one serial killer by getting inside the head of another who's already behind bars--the notorious Hannibal "the Cannibal" Lecter (Anthony Hopkins), a brilliant but psychopathic
psychiatrist. In a series of riveting interviews, Starling reveals personal details about her past to Lecter, in exchange for information that may snare "Buffalo Bill," the murderer who flays his female victims. Tensions escalate when Bill kidnaps the daughter of a U.S. senator and Lecter plots an
While the suspenseful pursuit of the killer is handled well by Demme, the film's principle attraction stems not from the thrill of the hunt, but from the spellbinding skull sessions between Jodie Foster's heroine and Anthony Hopkins's brilliant, menacing villain. Hopkins plays the cannibalistic
doctor with a quiet, controlled erudition, lacing his performance with moments of black humor. His Lecter is a sort of satanic Sherlock Holmes whose spasms of violence are all the more terrifying because they erupt from beneath such an intelligent and refined mask.
Although not as overwhelming, Foster's performance is equally impressive. Her strong-yet-vulnerable interpretation of the rookie FBI agent projects a quietly convincing feminism. Although she remains the pupil of the benign patriarch Crawford, Starling rises above the pettiness of her male
colleagues. Despite the cinematic and dramatic triumphs of SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, the film's accomplishments cannot be endorsed without reservation. While behavioral scientists within the film offer much psychoanalytical reading of character, the movie itself fails to separate Buffalo Bill's sexual
confusion from his homicidal psychopathy. While not central to the story, such a depiction threatens to demonize sexual ambiguity as criminal. Finally, while the amount of violence in this thriller is not unusual, the disturbingly bizarre nature of Lecter's face-eating cannibalism and the misogyny
of Buffalo Bill's modus operandi may be sufficient reason for many would-be viewers to forego the film's gripping drama.
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- Released: 1991
- Rating: R
- Review: One of the most talked-about movies of 1991, multiple Academy Award-winner THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS was actually the second "Hannibal Lecter" film, Michael Mann having previously adapted the character from Thomas Harris's novel Red Dragon in 1986's MANHUNT… (more)