Anthony Hopkins, Jodie Foster, and Scott Glenn star in THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, directed by Jonathan Demme for Orion Pictures.

The Silence of the Lambs (1991, Jonathan Demme)

No matter how hard Howard Shore’s score tries, The Silence of the Lambs is just a serial killer movie. I knew it was just a serial killer movie–that realization had occurred to me quite a long time ago–but its adherence to genre standards are still somewhat surprising. The movie wastes so much time on Anthony Hopkins, when he really has only a little to do with the actual story. Even taking into account he brings Jodie Foster into the big case, it doesn’t exactly matter. Foster’s momentous life change in the narrative is becoming an FBI agent, as the closing ceremony attests. Had the movie been about this cadet who got sucked into a huge case, ended up solving it by accident while having these disturbing encounters… well, then it would have made some sense.

The novel was a bestseller and, I’m assuming, Ted Tally felt the need to closely adapt it in regards to Hannibal Lecter. But what the script does is leave the Hopkins and Foster story incomplete while only giving a cursory examination of the actual investigation. Worse, Jonathan Demme lets the Lecter malarky distract from the one thing he has going. The escape, for example, eats up a bunch of running time–why, because the viewer is supposed to think the serial killer is cool for getting away so smart. The escape scene, the revelation of his intelligence and fast thinking, is not treated as a horrific event, rather something to be admired. It plays well on screen, sure, but we’re supposed to be admiring a serial killer.

That one thing Demme had? The way every single male in the first half of the movie ogled or propositioned Foster. It created a disquieting atmosphere and, when I was giving Demme some credit, gave the appearance of having some analog with the story of a man trying to become a woman. I don’t know how, but it doesn’t matter, because Demme flushed the whole subtext down the toilet once he got to do his big escape scene (with two cameos from Demme regulars, Buzz Kilman and Chris Isaak). The rampant sexism thing was never going to work or make Silence somehow special, but at least it would have been an interesting failure.

The acting’s okay. Hopkins has some okay moments, some not. Lots of the problems come from Demme’s annoying direction–he does his whole “stare directly into the camera while speaking” thing here. Foster’s equally problematic, because her character is never believable. I can’t picture her eating a sandwich, for instance, and the whole thing about her being really ambitious (masking insecurity), but she never shows it.

As the serial killer, Ted Levine is great. Anthony Heald is also great. Scott Glenn’s role is terribly written.

Demme runs hot and cold. With the exception of his close-ups, almost everything is good. The end, for instance, is rather scary.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Jonathan Demme; screenplay by Ted Tally, based on the novel by Thomas Harris; director of photography, Tak Fujimoto; edited by Craig McKay; music by Howard Shore; production designer, Kristi Zea; produced by Kenneth Utt, Edward Saxon and Ronald M. Bozman; released by Orion Pictures.

Starring Jodie Foster (Clarice Starling), Anthony Hopkins (Dr. Hannibal Lecter), Scott Glenn (Jack Crawford), Anthony Heald (Dr. Frederick Chilton), Ted Levine (Jame Gumb), Frankie Faison (Barney Matthews), Kasi Lemmons (Ardelia Mapp), Brooke Smith (Catherine Martin), Paul Lazar (Pilcher) and Dan Butler (Roden).


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