One of the most eidolic horror films of recent years, Silence of the Lambs follows Clarice (Jodi foster) as she strives to complete her FBI training. Her studies are broken when Jack Crawford (Scott Glen), head of the FBI's Behavioural Sciences Division, gives her the assignment of a lifetime. Jack asks Clarice to interview infamous mass murderer, and brilliant psychologist, Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) in an effort to gain insight into another mass murderer whom is still at large - “Buffalo Bill” (Ted Levine). Lecter has an insidious agenda and manipulates those around him to further his own macabre goals. It is up to Clarice to withstand Lecter's mental probing and gain enough insight to save the life of a senator's daughter.
I love Silence of the Lambs, even though the movie isn't wholly perfect. There is a slight lapse in pace in the latter stages, but otherwise there is little to fault. Silence gets right under your skin from the first moments as Jodie tackles the obstacle course to a strangely portentous score. Hopkins' performance is superb, far more interesting than the, admittedly more grounded, Brian Cox rendition from Manhunter. Of course, the fava beans line has become part of film-lore and one can't help but think it a bit too Fu Manchu-esque after all these years. Mostly, however, Hopkins delivers a simmering menace that burns through his unblinking eyes, brought beautifully into focus by the many close-ups that litter the movie. This would all be for nothing if it weren't for the equally impressive Jodi Foster. She manages to appear unsettled, strong and fearful all at the same time. There is one scene involving a sexually aroused inmate, just after Clarice first talks to Lecter, that wouldn't work if we didn't fully believe in the characters on screen. As it stands the semen thrown at Clarice by the inmate, her reaction, Lecter's hitherto hidden sense of gentlemanly honour and the whole ambience of the scene are merged with uncommon skill. We feel sickened by this disturbing sexual exertion, Clarice becoming a character to be protected from this squalid milieu. So when she delves deeper into both Buffalo Bill and Lecter's world to save a the life of an innocent, we become more fearful as a result, especially during the grim finale.
Let us not forget Buffalo Bill himself. Buffalo Bill is based on the seriously deranged Ed Gien, mass murderer of the late 40's to 50's. Gien killed three women, and probably his brother, with whose bodies he made soup bowls from skulls and belts from nipples. Silence of the Lambs, not wanting to give too much away, is similar in tone with Ted Levine appearing utterly insane as Buffalo Bill, without remorse or compassion. So, not exactly a happy go lucky romp in parochial Devon, then, but a masterpiece none the less.
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