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The Silence of the Lambs

Year: 1991
Production Co: Orion Pictures Corporation
Director: Jonathan Demme
Writer: Thomas Harris/Ted Tally
Cast: Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, Scott Glenn

How did a procedural crime flick come to be one of the seminal thrillers of the 1990s? Two words; Anthony Hopkins. The character of Hannibal Lecter was pretty marketable to begin with, but Hopkins' suave, vampiric ghoul gave the film a stronger hook than perhaps anyone realised until the box office took off.

It propelled Hopkins straight to the ranks of the thesping A leagues, and while I'm probably in a minority, I was never convinced he belonged there. He still has either a terrible agent or a dreadful instinct for choosing scripts, appearing in complete tosh as times. For every Nixon there's a Bad Company, for every The Remains of the Day an Alexander.

The reason I wasn't convinced at the time was the same reason I couldn't understand the critical salivating for Heath Ledger as The joker in The Dark Knight. In both cases each actor had the tics and the voice, but that's what actors are supposed to do. They were both supported so much by amazing make-up, cinematography and scripts I didn't feel such breathless plaudits were fully warranted.

At the time we'd also seldom seen smart, professional women heroes, particularly when their gender formed part of the plot, or at least the characterisation. Lesser films had simply cast a woman playing the part of a man with breasts.

And while I wasn't underwhelmed by the film and can easily identify the high quality elements, I can't really connect with what made it such a smash. Maybe it was just the aesthetic that would become torture porn, in an era where directors and censors weren't quite ready to actually show a murderer skinning women for a girl suit. In films since, we've seen it all and worse.

Serial killer Jame has been snatching young women for his sick motives, and junior FBI agent Starling (Foster) is fast tracked to crack a case that's fast becoming political. Her only hope to adequately profile Jame and catch up to him is to get inside the man's head courtesy of his former psychiatrist, Hannibal Lecter (Hopkins), himself behind bars (as well as various other photogenically dramatic restraining devices) for killing and eating people. But Lecter won't lead Starling to her prize so easily, not content until he's laid her own soul bare and got under her skin in the nastiest possible way.

The narrative arc is the most interesting aspect upon reflection. It's not clear whether to consider the mostly-faceless killer or Lecter the antagonist. Starling doesn't even face off with Jame until the tense, infrared climax. And no matter how psychologically cruel he is, you get the feeling Lecter wouldn't hurt Starling for anything.

None of the sequels or prequels were as nuanced and to this day it mostly stands alone.

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