The Silence of the Lambs

Silence Lambs 01When a serial killer dumps the bodies of several young women into various rivers between Ohio and Pennsylvania, with parts of their bodies skinned, newspapers anoint the unknown assailant as “Buffalo Bill.”  The head of Behavioral Sciences at the FBI recruits a beautiful young agent-trainee, who is earmarked for his division, to help him out by interviewing one of the most notorious serial killers of all: Hannibal Lecter, a cannibal.

The following review contains a detailed analysis of the plot, so be forewarned.

Jack Crawford (Scott Glenn) recruits Agent Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) for this job without telling her why: he wants to get Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) to help them profile Buffalo Bill so they can catch the killer before he acts again.  Even before she can leave Quantico for Baltimore, they are already too late.  Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine) lures young Catharine Martin (Brooke Smith) into his van and abducts her, putting her down in an empty well in his basement and forcing her to use lotion to soften her skin while his little toy poodle Precious looks on.  Sitting at a sewing machine, surrounded by rare moths, he sews his collected skin together.

Silence Lambs 03In Baltimore, Clarice meets Lecter’s prison psychiatrist, Dr. Chilton (Anthony Heald), who has taken to using subtle torture to try to make a name from Lecter, who was at one time himself a brilliant psychologist.  Given the antagonism between the two, she requests to see Lecter alone.  As she walks up the corridor to the special cell, one of the other inmates, Miggs, whispers obscene things to her.  In his cell, protected by glass, he is prohibited from contact with anything that might be used as a weapon or to escape, even pens, although he is allowed pencils to complete intricate drawings.  Clarice asks him about an especially detailed drawing of Venice and he remarks that it is his only way of having a view of the outside world.  Fascinated by her, he picks out her perfume and tries to get inside her mind without revealing anything of himself.  Frustrated, he dismisses her, but on the way out, Miggs throws a ball of come at her and this upsets Lecter who yells at her to come back.  He tells her to find an old patient of his, giving a few verbal hints and a fake name.

Clarice unravels his clues and follows them to a self storage garage outside Baltimore with an old car that contains a mannequin and a jar containing the head of Lecter’s former patient.  She revisits Lecter and he reveals that he did not kill the man, but that it is the world of a serial killer in the making.  Using a quid pro quo dialogue, he reveals bits and pieces while learning of Clarice’s youth, including the death of her father and her brief time on a sheep ranch in Montana staying with cousins afterward.

Another body is found and Clarice accompanies Crawford to examine the body.  Although he appears to be playing psychological games with her, Clarice stands up for herself and earns the fair treatment she deserves.  While examining the body, they find the pupa of moth wedged inside the girl’s mouth.  The investigation leads Clarice to university specialists who tell her that the pupa is a rare species of Asian moth.

Back in Quantico, she sees a television report that Senator Ruth Martin’s (Diane Baker) daughter has been kidnapped by Buffalo Bill.  Martin attempts to humanize her daughter to the killer by showing pictures of the girl growing up and referring to her over and over by her name: Catherine.  Oblivious to the broadcast, Bill continues to sew the skin of his victims together.

Silence Lambs 02Promising Lecter a transfer away from Dr. Chilton, Clarice tells him that if he can help them find Buffalo Bill, he will even be allowed some time on a beach.  Recording the conversation, Dr. Chilton checks with Senator Martin and discovers that the FBI has lied to Lecter and no such deal is in place.  He reveals this to his patient and brokers his own deal with Martin.  During his conversation with Hannibal, who is restricted with a straight jacket and face plate, Chilton leaves his pen lying in the office, then leaves Lecter to his assistant with the instruction to clean him up and get him ready for transfer.  In Memphis, Tennessee, Lecter is taken off the plane, but when Chilton goes to sign his release, he can no longer find his pen.  Lecter watches him anxiously until a guard offers a pen instead.

Introduced to the Senator, Lecter gives her false information as to the identity of Catherine’s abductor and is then escorted to a special cell on an isolated floor of the courthouse.  Clarice comes to see him, even though it is no longer her case, to try to find out why he gave the Senator false information and to keep trying to get the real killer’s name.  Playing quid pro quo again, he gets her to reveal that the reason she ran away from the ranch in Montana was that she was awakened by screaming because the spring lambs were being slaughtered.  Appalled, she opened the pen to let them go, but they wouldn’t leave, so she took one lamb and ran away, getting caught several miles from the ranch.  Lecter gets her to admit that she sometimes still has nightmares about the screaming of the lambs.  As Chilton and the officers escort her out, Lecter gives her back her case file and tells her that all she needs to know is there.  When the guards deliver Lecter his dinner, they handcuff him to the bars of his cage, but using components from Chilton’s pen, he unlocks his cuff and kills the two guards, cleverly making his escape.

Silence Lambs 04Piecing together bits of what Lecter has given her, she realizes that the killer might live close to the first victim because in the beginning these killers covet those who are nearby, that they see every day.  With this knowledge, she goes to visit the family of the first victim and stumbles upon the killer.  I won’t revel the ending, even though it is very exciting.

Only the third film to win Academy Awards in all the top five categories, Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director, and Adapted Screenplay, it is also the first horror film to be named Best Picture.  All five awards are richly deserved.

This 1991 film truly established Jonathan Demme as a master of the art of film directing and in The Silence of the Lambs he has created a masterpiece that even Alfred Hitchcock would have loved.  The airtight script by Ted Tally, based on the 1988 novel by Thomas Harris, melds several genres in a stew that is absolutely compelling.  A friend of Harris, Tally’s first draft was accepted by Demme and the film went into production with very little revision.  It is virtually unheard of in the film industry for a script to be so well written is taken on a first draft basis.

Murder mystery, detective story, horror, and psychological drama all work together under Demme’s expert hand.  Running just under two hours, the story is so gripping that it is extremely difficult to pull oneself away.  The music by Howard Shore feels invisible, yet it is coldly calculated to lead the viewer steadily and deeply into the grisly scenario.  Shore said of his score, “I tried to write in a way that goes right into the fabric of the movie.”  Bullseye.

Demme’s use of close-ups in the intense dialogue between Starling and Lecter, especially with the camera moving ever so slowly in tighter and tighter, creates such a feeling of intimacy and gripping suspense as to make it palpable.  In addition, the movie is a prime example of brilliant editing, each scene cut perfectly for the story.

The acting is pure gold.  This is by far Jodie Foster’s best performance in a long and distinguished career and she earned her Oscar by imbuing Clarice Starling with such a rich and subtle layering of character that she was completely believable and utterly compelling.  Opposite her, Anthony Hopkins plays Hannibal with such brilliance, both believably intelligent far beyond most people and yet eerily spooky in his madness, one moment perfect British manner, one moment biting someone’s nose off.  Whenever he is present, a scene is elevated to the deepest level of psychological complication.  Great acting!  The supporting cast all do their jobs, each actor invested in their little part of the tapestry.

I’ve now seen this movie six times and each time I still find every single moment of it to be utterly compelling.  It stands the test of time with no effort at all and must be considered deep within anyone’s list of the Top 100 films of all time.

Adults only, this is a must-see movie!!!

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Written by Tom Stoppard (author of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead) and Marc Norman, this 1998 film is both a comedy and a romance–and it is very successful at both.  Great performances by Gwyneth Paltrow, Joseph Fiennes, Geoffrey Rush, and Judi Densch fuel this terrific comedy and unpredictable romance!


Silence Lambs 01The Silence of the Lambs

When a serial killer dumps the bodies of several young women into various rivers between Ohio and Pennsylvania, with parts of their bodies skinned, newspapers anoint the unknown assailant as “Buffalo Bill.”  The head of Behavioral Sciences at the FBI recruits a beautiful young agent-trainee, who is earmarked for his division, to help him out by interviewing one of the most notorious serial killers of all: Hannibal Lecter, a cannibal.


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This delightful comedy/drama was written and directed by David O. Russell, adapted from the book The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick.  Centered around two quirky people, both at a crossroads in their lives, the film presents bi-polar disorder as a condition that can be overcome.  Jennifer Lawrence gives an Academy Award performance opposite Bradley Cooper, with Robert DeNiro, Jacki Weaver, and Chris Tucker.


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Rachel Getting Married

RachelGettingMarried_9This is a film that is uncertain of its genre. It starts out and has the feel throughout of a slice of life movie, yet, underneath, a great tragedy is struggling to get out, and, at the end, it bursts into a kind of feel-good film.

In Stamford, Connecticut, Kym (Anne Hathaway) is given a weekend pass from her drug rehab center to attend the wedding of her older sister, Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt) to Sidney (Tunde Adebimpe). She is picked up by her father, Paul (Bill Irwin) and stepmother, Carol (Anna Deavere Smith), so the presence of two inter-racial marriages is brought front and center.  As if that wasn’t interesting enough, the wedding has a East Indian theme, with a group of fascinating Middle-eastern musicians who provide a kind of world music backdrop to the action and featuring Robyn Hitchcock, singing and performing.

Right from the beginning, Rachel and Kym clash and it is a battle that will carry until nearly the conclusion of the film. Kym is totally self-absorbed and constantly turns what should be a joyous occasion for Rachel into a story about her own problems.  Recognizing the Best Man, Kieran (Mather Zickel), from Narcotics Anonymous, she has sex with him and he reveals that she is not to be Maid of Honor. Rachel has asked her best friend, Emma (Anisa George) for that honor and Kym becomes extremely upset, thinking that it should have been her.  Exasperated, Rachel asks Emma to step down and let Kym be Maid of Honor.

At the rehearsal dinner, where we finally meet their mother, Abby (Debra Winger), amid a great many toasts, Kym apologizes to Rachel for her screwed up life, but afterwards Rachel viciously attacks her for making the wedding all about her and not about Rachel and Sidney.

The next time Kym goes to her Narcotics Anonymous meeting, she explains how, when she was totally messed up on drugs, she drove off a bridge and killed her little brother, Ethan, who could not get out of his child seat. Once this is revealed, we see the real tragedy emerging: the blame from Rachel and the protectiveness of Paul now make perfect sense.  Kym’s inability to forgive herself is at the center of the movie.  It shouldn’t be any surprise that the very best part of the movie is the wedding itself.

First, the good news.

All of the acting is stunningly good, especially the two leads, Anne Hathaway and Rosemarie DeWitt, who deliver such a natural feel to their characters that they are absolutely beyond a doubt believable and empathetic. You really care about them and what happens to them and you root for them to solve their problems and find a way out of their problems.  There were times when one or the other of them nearly brought me to tears with their beautiful performances.  The supporting cast is also incredible.  Bill Irwin and Debra Winger are so honest and believable as the divorced parents of the girls that not once do you question their action.  Anna Deavere Smith is also terrific and every supporting character has the solid feel of being a real person.

Filmed in a cinema verité style using hand-held cameras, sparked by extensive improvisation by the actors, the film sparkles as a slice of life movie.  This is the way people talk and act, in kind of a haphazard way that just doesn’t feel scripted at all.  Much of the credit for this success belongs to director Jonathan Demme, who urged the cast to be acting all of the time as a cadre of cameras worked their way around the set and the musicians improvised a soundtrack that was recorded at the same time as the dialogue.

This film was written by Jenny Lumet, daughter of terrific director Sidney Lumet and granddaughter of Lena Horne. A middle school drama teacher, she has attempted several screenplays, but this is her first effort actually produced.  Since I haven’t seen the screenplay—and since director Jonathan Demme depends a great deal on actor improvisation in this movie—it is impossible for me to judge the quality of the script. 

That being said, the film has a few obvious problems and I’m inclined to ascribe them more to Demme’s direction and control over the editing than Lumet’s screenplay.

At one hour and 53 minutes, this movie is at least 30 minutes too long. Demme filmed long, improvised scenes at the rehearsal dinner, the musical portion of the dinner, and at the wedding itself where he simply fell in love with the ensemble and included much, much more than was needed in the final cut.  Everything that takes away from Kym’s and Rachels conflict should have been cut down to size.  A sampling would have done the job and put us back soundly into the main story.  Sometimes what is left on the cutting room floor will determine whether a movie is good or great and I’m inclined to think that is the case here.  If it had been tightened up, then perhaps the tragedy and feel-good ending would have come together to make a truly great film, but the slice of life aspect overcomes everything else and makes the film really drag in places.

Anne Hathaway was nominated for an Academy Award for her performance in the film and she certainly deserved it. In fact, there could have been multiple acting nominations because all of the actors are just that good.  Much of the directing is also excellent and all of the music is amazing.  All of the ingredients for a great film are present.

Ultimately, I think someone needed to step forward and say, “This is a about Kym and Rachel and we’re going to focus and hone the movie to that purpose.” The ending would have been much more poignant if it had been the natural outcome of a drama built steadily in that direction.  Perhaps the slice of life aspect of the movie would have suffered some, but I honestly believe that this movie has a great deal more in it and that great deal should have been more tightly focused.