DENNIS SCHWARTZ 
IS THERE ANY GOOD 
IN SAYING 
EVERYTHING ABOUT A MOVIE?

 
SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, THE (director: Jonathan Demme; screenwriters: Ted Tally/based on Thomas Harris novel; cinematographer: Tak Fujimoto; editor: Craig McKay; music: Howard Shore; cast: Jodie Foster (Clarice Starling), Anthony Hopkins (Dr. Hannibal Lecter), Scott Glenn (Jack Crawford), Anthony Heald (Dr. Frederick Chilton), Ted Levine (Jame “Buffalo Bill” Gumb), Frankie Faison (Barney Matthews), Kasi Lemmons (Ardelia Mapp), Brooke Smith (Catherine Martin), Diane Baker (Sen. Ruth Martin), Roger Corman (FBI Director Hayden Burke), Ron Vawter (Paul Krendler); Runtime: 118; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Ron Bozman/Edward Saxon/Kenneth Utt;  MGM Home Entertainment; 1991)

 
"The over-the-top story reeks of phoniness, grisly violence and exploitation."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Jonathan Demme's ("The Last Embrace"/"Melvin and Howard"/"Married to the Mob") slickly made ode to pop culture serial killer flick is based on the 1988 best-seller by Thomas Harris (a former crime and police reporter) and is scripted by Ted Tally. It proved popular at the box office and with the Academy, winning 5 Oscars (Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, and Screenplay Writing). Though well-crafted and superbly acted, the over-the-top story reeks of phoniness, grisly violence and exploitation. It counts on its suspense to make you overlook its gibberish and repulsive story about one serial killer who bites his victims' tongues out and another who flays his victims. The film was not without controversy, as the so-called gay community objected to the way it portrayed Buffalo Bill as a wannabe transsexual with stereotypical gay traits. But, on the contrary, many feminist critics such as the Village Voice's Amy Taubin, praised it as “a slasher film in which the woman is hero rather than victim, pursuer rather than pursued.” To the filmmaker's credit, he at least refrains from getting too graphic in depicting the violence but must be taken to task for its vileness and emptiness.

Ambitious FBI trainee Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster), a smart no-nonsense psychology major grad, is assigned by senior FBI agent Jack Crawford (Scott Glenn) to interview its Number 1 monster in captivity, cannibalistic serial killer Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins), in his ultra-secure bulletproof glass sealed prison cell so he could teach her how to pursue the current notorious serial killer nicknamed Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine), who flays his victims after keeping them in his home-made dungeon for three days and starving them. The cunning psychopath, a former psychiatrist and respected intellect, gives Agent Starling clues in tracking Buffalo Bill in exchange for her giving him personal information about herself, as he plays her treacherous father figure analyzing her for his own sport. Though these scenes are perversely entertaining for those so inclined, it's unrealistic to believe this is the way that FBI questioning would or should go. If it does, it's no wonder we know so little about these severely sick individuals. This film might add an entertainment feature to such sickos but adds no real knowledge of them as it hints it does.

Starling's goal is to locate Buffalo Bill within seventy-two hours before he kills and flays his latest victim, the 25-year-old Catherine Martin (Brooke Smith), a U.S. senator’s daughter. Buffalo Bill does this so he can sew for himself a “gown” that will enhance his hoped-for transformation into a female version of himself.

The movie moves along at a quick pace aided by some gruesome crime-scene photos, a graphic filming of a gory jailbreak by Lecter, the tracking down of BB and lots of spine-chilling chatter such as Lecter telling Agent Starling “A census taker once tried to test me and I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti.” The more perverse scenes found favor with the public, who were quick to call such an absurd horror film a classic. I have too many mixed feelings about it to see it as anything more than an unsettling B-film dressed up as a great horror film. 

Anthony Hopkins gives the film its gory touches and its most memorable character; it's in his wickedness as the seductive and almost likable psychopathic killer the film is built around. He impresses us as not your run of the mill crackpot since he can sketch the Duomo from memory. Foster acts as the counterpoint to Hopkins in their cat-and-mouse sessions, as the clear-headed career-minded FBI agent who is smart enough to recognize her limitations. But eventually the implausibility of the plot plays a heavy toll and the film is not nearly as good as its actors make it out to be.

REVIEWED ON 3/7/2007        GRADE: B-

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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