All creative hands are at the top of their form in “The Silence of the Lambs,” a mesmerizing thriller that will grip audiences from first scene to last and generate solid B.O.
Skillful adaptation of Thomas Harris’ bestseller intelligently wallows in the fascination for aberrant psychology and perverse evil, delivering the goods in a way that should electrify critics and mainstream audiences.
The specifics of the murder case in question here — a serial killer who partially skins his female vlctims — are certainly gruesome, but are handled to generate maximum suspense without descending into the exploitative.
Thoughtful and not debasing, pic takes a compelling, upfront look at sociopathic behavior and government attempts, with varying success, to keep it in check.
Faithfully following the essentials of Harris’ book, playwright Ted Tally’s sharp script charts tenacious efforts of young FBI recruit Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) to cope with the appalling challenges of her first case.
Confounded by a series of grotesque murders committed by someone known only as “Buffalo Bill,” bureau special agent Jack Crawford (Scott Glenn) asks his female protege to seek the help of the American prison system’s No.1 resident monster in fashioning a psychological profile of the killer.
Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) is commonly known as “Hannibal the Cannibal” for the antisocial dining habits he took up upon abandoning his career as a brilliant psychiatrist to pursue his calling as a homicidal maniac.
Astonishingly insightful and brutally frank, Lecter has been kept in a dungeon-like cell for eight years, and while officious doctors and investigators can get nothing out of him, he is willing to play ball with his attractive new inquisitor.
On a quid pro quo basis, Lecter gives Starling clues as to the killer’s identity in exchange for details about her past. Even though Lecter is known as an ingenious manipulator and Starling has been warned against getting personal with him, she must proceed, especially after the daughter of a U.S. senator becomes Buffalo Bill’s latest captive.
Just as it seems the noose is tightening around the killer, Lecter, in an remarkably fine suspense Sequence, manages an unthinkable escape. The FBI and, on her own, Starling must use all the info and guts they have to finally corner Buffalo Bill. But then, there is Lecter.
Harris’ plot is as tight as a coiled rattler, and it has motivated Jonathan Demme to turn out his leanest, meanest work. Abandoning the colorful frills and offbeat mixed moods of “Something Wild” and “Married to the Mob,” this always interesting director has devoted himself to relentless storytelling.
There is not a false note nor an extraneous moment as he establishes a vise-like hold almost immediately and doesn’t let up even through the chilling final shot. In the second half of “Something Wild,” Demme demonstrated a marked talent for rough suspense, something he sustains for two hours here.
At the outset, Demme and his longtime ace lenser, Tak Fujimoto, plunge the viewer directly into the p.o.v. of the novice investigator Stariing, as she goes face to face with the diabolical Lecter and, as suggested by the title, is forced to confront her own childhood demons relating to the slaughter of animals. Film is omniscient, however, showing the activities of Buffalo Bill as well as those of Lecter later on.
In a strong performance, Foster fully registers the inner strength her character must summon up to meet the challenges and occasional humiliations her tough assignment entails.
Cast against type as a reserved man in glasses and a suit, Scott Glenn is a very agreeable surprise as the FBI agent who takes a chance by putting his young charge on the case.
The juiciest part is Hopkins,’ and he makes the most of it. Helped by some highly dramatic lighting, actor makes the role the personification of brilliant, hypnotic evil, and the screen jolts with electricity whenever he is on. This is, without doubt, his most effective film appearance to date.
From the huge hall in which Lecter is eerily caged at one point to the dingy rooms of Buffalo Bill’s house, Kristi Zea’s production design is critical to the picture’s mood. Editor Craig McKay keeps doesn’t let a frame stay on too long, and Howard Shore’s rather traditional score outstandingly amplifies the tension and psychological mystery.