The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
Directed by Jonathan Demme
I’m under the impression that the internet never lies. So when IMDb tells me that “The Silence of the Lambs” is one of the best films of all time statistically, I don’t doubt it. Anyway, I knew this long ago. This unforgettable thriller (the be-all, end-all of suspense) was one of only three films ever to receive the “Big 5” at the 1992 Academy Awards: Best Actor (Anthony Hopkins), Best Actress (Jodie Foster), Best Screenplay (Adapted, Ted Tally), Best Director (Jonathan Demme, “Philadelphia”), and Best Picture. It’s a classic, a must-see, a tour de force that (I can only assume, not having seen its competition) deserved each and every one of those accolades.
When a sadistic serial killer (Ted Levine) kidnaps his latest victim (Brooke Smith), the FBI has to turn to one of his own to catch him. Dr. Hannibal Lector (Hopkins) is locked in maximum security for heinous crimes of murder and cannibalism (bath salts, anyone?) when young FBI trainee Clarice Starling (Foster) is sent to pick his brain. She soon learns, though, that the only brain-picking would come from the former psychologist himself. Eventually, the budding professional pieces together the clues to discover the whereabouts of the man they call “Buffalo Bill” and his victim. Will she be able to get save the victim before she’s killed? Will Dr. Lector give them more trouble than help? I wouldn’t spoil it for the world.
Screenwriter Ted Tally (working with Thomas Harris’ 1988 novel) has an insatiable knack for suspense but also possesses a functional funny bone. It’s a thing of beauty, this script. Harris intertwined two stories that could have easily been just as captivating had they stood alone. It’s a stimulating tale that (with my inexpert knowledge of FBI protocol) seems to stick within the scope of realism. Not for a second could I peel my eyes from the drama and excitement on the screen. Tally gives a name and a face to Buffalo Bill’s victims, the perfect way to bring the viewers into the story. It doesn’t take long before you want justice to prevail. And the ending…wow. “The Silence of the Lambs” uses silence—fitting—as well as its haunting score to create some of the most suspense-filled moments I’ve ever witnessed on screen.
Hannibal Lector is a three-ring circus that, when the stage is set, is quite a spectacle. He may be the most disturbing, memorable, and well-developed character in film history, and Anthony Hopkins becomes his character in an unprecedented way. You’ll shudder at his sinister visage, a snarl that will make young children quake. Jodie Foster brings out her best Appalachian drawl and gives a performance to be remembered decades from now. Clarice Starling…even the name is hard to forget. She’s a living treasure that never fails to give a humanized, lovable performance. “The Silence of the Lambs” is filled with a sublime supporting ensemble that, like their leads, become their characters in every way.
“The Silence of the Lambs” uses everything in its favor to create the ultimate mystery, and Oscar took notice. You should, too.
P.S. I won’t be posting for a while due to my impending excursion to the Bahamas, where, like Lector, I may “have an old friend for dinner.”