The Silence of the Lambs: Review
The Silence of the Lambs may not be the best movie ever made. It is however my personal favorite film, and one I full heartedly recommend to anybody over the age of 17 (there are some pretty mature themes not intended for younger audiences). From the cast to the directing, and the screenplay to the cinematography it just doesn’t get better than this when it comes to cinematic excellence in the last days of the 20th century.
Director Jonathan Demme sets the mood from the very first shot with FBI trainee Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) alone, running towards camera on a wooded trail, sweating decked out in sweatpants and a sweatshirt. Although throughout the rest of the movie Clarice is judged by or sought after because of her sexuality, Demme has chosen the first image of her to be the least flattering of the entire film. In fact, our first impression of the rookie FBI agent is one of sexual repulsion. However, from this point forward virtually every male character either objectifies or is sexually attracted to her. Even Dr. Hannibal Lecter (played to perfection by Sir Anthony Hopkins) who treats Starling with respect and shows extreme interest in her personally, finds her alluring. These two opposites set the tone that this is not going to be your usual horror film, not by a long shot.
This directorial touch is but one of the many great aspects that makes Silence the film that it is. The directing, cinematography and acting is all done so superbly it’s impossible to place the credit on just one aspect alone. Particularly notable are the nuances that Foster and Hopkins bring to the table which are nothing less than astounding. The scenes featuring their tete-a-tete dialogue really drives the film’s momentum and maintains the palpable tension felt throughout the film. Considering that both Foster and Hopkins rightfully won Academy Awards for their portrayals in this film, it’s amazing that every other actor on screen more than holds their own. Namely, Scott Glenn as Jack Crawford and Anthony Heald as the slimy Dr. Chilton do a terrific job of supporting the principle cast. And I honestly believe that Ted Levine was snubbed for a Best Supporting Actor nomination for his career defining turn as Buffalo Bill.
In addition to the fine performances one has to admire the phenomenal cinematography by Tak Fujimoto (another snubbed Oscar nomination). The artistry behind the lens pushes Silence beyond the norm of all other horror films, and indeed many films outside the genre. The simple yet effective camerawork, rococo lighting, and moody tone all come together to create a stylized look that doesn't take you out of the moment. There is artistry here, and thought, and a definite continuity that fits the world of the film like a glove. For instance, the camera is often set directly in the eye line of an actor during dialogue scenes creating the illusion that the actor is looking directly at the audience, instilling a sense of discomfort. Fujimoto frames many of these shots so the actor's faces fill the entire screen, further adding to the intimacy between the characters onscreen and those in the audience.
Most of the films exterior scenes were shot with the ambience of a cloudy day giving them a very dark and overbearing mood despite few nighttime scenes (an odd thing for any horror film). But it is with the films' interiors were Fujimoto really shines. He toys with dark and light, obscuring details or entire characters until he wants to reveal them. And the fact that he does not use this technique for shock frights is applaudable. In the first scene between Starling and Lecter, they step towards each other briefly stepping into shadow before returning to light, almost as if they are entering their own twisted world. From that moment on Clarice is in a cat and mouse game of wits with a psychopathic psychiatrist. But even as what is being seen onscreen becomes more and more disturbing the camerawork and lighting stay consistent, never taking the audience out of the moment, letting the plot drive the movie forward. Nothing overly glitzy here, just well thought out, well executed cinematography.
Between the Oscar worthy acting, directing, and writing, the amazing cinematography, tight editing, and a fittingly intense score by Howard Shore, The Silence of the Lambs earns my highest praise.