The Silence of the Lambs (1991)   4/54/54/54/54/5

Anthony Heald and Anthony Hopkins in The Silence of the Lambs

Silence of the Starling

Back in 1991 a movie came out which got audiences flocking to the cinema, the movie was "The Silence of The Lambs". Now many years later "The Silence of The Lambs" is still as popular as ever as is Anthony Hopkins's chilling performances as Hannibal Lecter. From the performances through to the atmosphere and sense of foreboding horror pretty much everything about the movie works.

Trainee FBI agent Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster - The Accused) is requested by the head of the FBI Behavioural Sciences department, Jack Crawford (Scott Glenn - Silverado) to assist in the hunt for Buffalo Bill, a serial killer who has been kidnapping, murdering and skinning young woman. In an attempt to get inside the mind of the serial killer, Clarice is dispatched to the Baltimore Mental Institution to interview the imprisoned psychiatrist, Dr Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins - Fracture) who himself became a serial killer. As Clarice probes Lecter for information, she finds herself the subject of his amusement, as he toys with her emotions and gains information on her in return for his help.

Jodie Foster as Clarice Starling in The Silence of the Lambs

Although labelled a horror flick by some reviewers, "The Silence of The Lambs" is definitely not in the tradition of most slasher flicks, it is much more intelligent than that, with most of the scary moments coming from brilliantly built up suspense and the psychology of Lecter getting in to Starlings head. In reality it is a brilliant combination of several movie genres, firstly you have the detective side with the FBI in search of a serial killer, next you have the horror side with not only the gruesomeness of the serial killings but also the psychological side and finally it is also a coming of age movie, as we watch the character of Clarice grow from being a nervous recruit who is on the edge of failing and pressured out in a male orientated world into a confident woman in control of her destiny.

The story is based upon the novel "The Silence of the Lambs" by Thomas Harris and in my opinion is one of the best horror/thrillers from the last century. Even though some critics have ripped it apart and highlighted some of its flaws, I personally find it completely gripping on every level. In reality the movie has two story lines running through it. The first and in some ways the most prominent of them is the hunt for the serial killer Buffalo Bill, lead by Clarice Starling and assisted by imprisoned serial killer Dr Hannibal Lecter. Not that I am an expert in the psychology or the ways and means that either the FBI or a serial killer operates, but I found this side of "The Silence of The Lambs" completely engrossing, as we watch clues fall into place as the FBI search for Buffalo Bill. The fact that Buffalo Bill's latest victim is the daughter of a Senator helps heighten the tension and not once does this side of the story drag, keeping the pace of the movie at a perfect rate.

The second side of "The Silence of The Lambs" concentrates on the character of Clarice Starling and her relationship with Dr Hannibal Lecter. This in fact has two elements in itself; firstly we get to watch the character of Starling grow from a trainee FBI recruit who could possibly be on the verge of flunking out of the FBI, to a more confident woman. This is entwined with her relationship with Lecter as he manages to get inside her head with his psychological games and clues. This is definitely a very strong part of the movie and is no doubt down to the brilliant performances from Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins which makes it work so exceptionally well. Put all these elements together and you have in my opinion one of the best storylines for a movie from the last century. Neither one of the main elements takes precedence over the other, and in doing so work brilliantly together to make the movie thoroughly engrossing from start to finish.

I've already brushed upon the performances of the two main leads but I cannot really express how crucial they are to the success of the movie, mainly because the interaction between the two was spot on perfect and so justified the Oscars that they each won for leading male and female performances. Jodie Foster puts in a brilliant performance as Clarice Starling and fits the character perfectly. Quite often when you have a star in a major role you end up drawing similarities between their character and any previous characters which they have played. In the case of Clarice, Foster manages to make the character unique and not once did I find myself thinking I had seen her do the same performance elsewhere. The same can be said for Anthony Hopkins as he took a departure from his usual type of character to take on the scary Dr Lecter. With out doubt, Hopkins puts in one of his best performances as he manages to make Dr Lecter one of the scariest characters on screen I have seen in many years.

Also making appearances in less prominent roles are Scott Glen, Ted Levine and Anthony Heald who all put in great performances which rather than detract from the overall enjoyment of the movie add to its overall pleasure.

"The Silence of The Lambs" is directed by Jonathan Demme and again he thoroughly deserved the Oscar he won for best direction despite being up against the equally great Oliver Stone for "JFK". In a movie which I feel is close on being perfect, it is hard for me to pick just one thing which I feel Demme did exceptionally well, and it would take to long to discuss every single thing which he did right in the film. If I had to pick one, it would have to be the manner in which he creates suspense throughout the movie, in some ways very similar to the style of Hitchcock. Just when you are being sucked into what is happening on screen, something unexpected happens which has you jumping in shock, tie this in to the fact that he never shows you the actual horror which is taking place, but uses sounds and lighting to fuel your own imagination to scare yourself, and you have a perfect movie packed with suspense.

What this all boils down to is that "The Silence of The Lambs" was and some 20 years after it's release still is a magnificent movie. It has a brilliant storyline which is held together brilliantly by some stunning performances and the characters are some of the most memorable in cinematic history. I have lost count of the number of times I have watched it, but each time it is as engrossing, suspenseful and enjoyable as the first. Demme's direction is brilliant and it was no surprise that Hopkins went on to reprise his role of Hannibal Lecter in the following two films "Hannibal" and "Red Dragon".