Thursday, March 9, 2017

The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

The Silence of the Lambs (1991): adapted by Ted Tally from the novel by Thomas Harris; directed by Jonathan Demme; starring Jodie Foster (Clarice Starling), Anthony Hopkins (Dr. Hannibal Lecter), Anthony Heald (Dr. Chilton), Scott Glenn (Jack Crawford), Brooke Smith (Catherine Martin), and Ted Levine (Jame Gumb): More than 25 years later, The Silence of the Lambs still sings with the force and presence of Jodie Foster as FBI trainee Clarice Foster. And the plot sings too -- or at least hums from beginning to end with urgency and horror and sympathy and dread.

Overall, I think Michael Mann's adaptation of Thomas Harris' first novel featuring Hannibal Lecter, Manhunter (adapting the novel Red Dragon) is the superior work. Why? Mann is a better visual director than Jonathan Demme, and he makes more interesting choices in terms of set design and terrifying set-pieces with unusual musical accompaniment. Demme goes for the obvious by making both Lecter's part of the mental asylum and the basement of serial killer Jame Gumb into dripping medieval prisons. And his Jame Gumb never comes into focus as a sinister character -- he remains a scary freak right to the end, unlike Tom Noonan's partially humanized monster in Manhunter.

Still, Jodie Foster deserved her Best Actress Oscar. It's harder to judge Anthony Hopkins' Lecter now, overlaid as he is by another 25 years of improbable, omniscient, omnipotent serial killers. 

The movie is relentlessly feminist in a strangely satisfying way for a thriller: even the best of men ignore women when they're not either hitting on them or using them as bait. Or murdering and skinning them. These 'bad man' moments are almost all peculiar to the movie, as screenwriter Ted Tally either omits or rewrites certain male characters to highlight Clarice Starling's embattled solitude in a Man's World. Jesus, though, Jame Gumb has the world's most anomalously large basement. Highly recommended.

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