By John H. Foote
When The Silence of the Lambs (1991) swept the major Oscars, Best Film, Actor, Actress, Director and Screenplay, there was some griping about Jodie Foster winning again, just three years after winning for a The Accused (1988). Let me state here and now, her Clarice Starling is the heart and soul of the film, from the first time we see her, to the last, she owns this movie. Watch her face when she turns around to see the photos of the murdered and skinned young women, victims of Buffalo Bill, a serial killer on the loose. The hurt, the compassion, the pain and the resolve that sweeps across her face is stunning to behold. It is arguably one of the greatest acted scenes in American cinema.
As FBI trainee Clarice Starling, like that tough little bird, Foster was superb. So much of the credit for the film’s greatness went to Anthony Hopkins, who in less than thirty minutes of screen time, creates in Dr. Hannibal Lecter, Hannibal the Cannibal, one of the most terrifying, yet fascinating characters in movie history. Hopkins is brilliant, his never blinking, seeming all seeing eyes see directly into her soul, and with Starling he finds a worthy adversary. We have Starling, brilliant, reading his clues, understanding them, and Lecter, his intellect immeasurable by our tests, his IQ off the charts, go toe to toe with each other, finding common ground in their mutual respect for the other.
In a curious give and take of “quid pro quo” she shares something of her life if he helps her reveal who Buffalo Bill might be. Letting him in her head is dangerous and she knows that, but needs to save a young woman taken, they suspect correctly by Bill.
The chemistry between Foster and Hopkins is electrifying, be it their first cordial meeting through to their last, blackly comic phone conversation. Each was most deserving of the many awards they won, but let’s be clear, Foster owns the film. Watch the movie without ever taking your eyes off her. Her face, haunted by the photos of the murdered women, how she stands, shaken to her core, nearly slipping out of heels as she walks away from Lecter, the stunning realization when she is standing in front of Buffalo Bill, in his home, and the wild caged animal she becomes when hunting her prey in the dark. Foster is simply remarkable in one of the great film performances of the last thirty years.
Did actor Ted Levine ever get the credit he deserved as Buffalo Bill, a man killing and skinning women to make himself a skin suit to make him a woman? It is a bold and daring performance, requiring the actor to do many things you cannot imagine as an artist being asked to do. His solo dance, with his male parts tucked in to give him the appearance of a woman is the stuff of madness and nightmares incarnate.
When Dr. Lecter escapes, the FBI expects him to go after Clarice, but he does not, he has a true escape and curious revenge in mind. The manner in which he escapes, stringing a police officer up outside his cage to suggest flying the coop is horrifying but displays extraordinary resolve.
Jonathan Demme, who we lost year won the Academy Award for Best Director for the film, his first for a major studio. He managed to make the film among the most tension filed, and most electrifyingly edited films ever made. Yet nothing he does, nothing in his work takes away from the startling realism he brought to the film. Everything he did here, he did right. In doing so he made one of the great thrillers ever made.
In addition to sweeping the major categories at the Academy Awards, the film also swept the coveted New York Film Critics Awards, extraordinary for a film released so early in the year. It speaks volumes about the films lasting impact with audiences and critics.
The Blu Ray comes loaded with extras including reviews, both at the time of release and recently, documentaries about the film and its making and of course its legacy.
Criterion is a unique company in the care they take with their Blu Ray releases. They select from the past up to five titles a month and give them this unique treatment. I have twenty of their Special Editions and trust me, they are restored with breathtaking results, and a special brand of film school.
John H. Foote is a well-recognized Canadian film critic/historian who has been an active critic for 30 years. His deep love for the movies began at a very young age. He began his career as co-host of the popular TV show Reel to Real where he remained for nine years. While on TV he began dabbling in education, eventually ascending to Director of the Toronto Film School, where he also taught film history. After leaving the college to care for his wife, he returned to teaching at Humber College where he taught both Film History and Method Acting Theory. John has written two books: “Clint Eastwood – Evolution of a Filmmaker” and the upcoming “Spielberg – American Film Visionary”. He is currently working on two books, one about the films of the seventies and another on the films of Martin Scorsese. Through his career he has worked in TV, radio, print and the web. John has interviewed everyone in the industry (more than 300 interviews) except Jack Nicholson, he says sadly. Highlights include Martin Scorsese, Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep Robert Duvall, Jane Fonda, Francis Ford Coppola and Kathryn Bigelow.
He remains cinema obsessed