Plot: What’s it about?
As a vicious serial killer nicknamed Buffalo Bill preys upon young women, the F.B.I. decides the best way to solve the case is to use a rookie agent and the most lethal serial killer of all time. The agent is Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster), who is still knee deep in the training program, but must shoulder the heavy burden of this most important case. Her main source of potential help is though to be former master psychiatrist turned serial killer, Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lecter (Anthony Hopkins). The authorities believe with Lecter’s complex and incredible mental skills, he can lead Starling toward the killer and end the horrific siege. But Lecter doesn’t like to help people that much and as such, Starling is forced to use her best judgment and reveal some information to Lecter that she shouldn’t have. As Starling works to gain his trust and trade information, Buffalo Bill takes his next victim, this time the daughter of Senator Ruth Martin (Diane Baker). But as she also works to investigate the case in other avenues, Starling is drawn into a game of sorts with Lecter, who loves to hear stories of her troubled childhood. While all these elements swirl around her, can Starling use what information she can muster to put together the solution, before Buffalo Bill can take another life?
The 1991 Academy Awards were owned by this film, as it became only the third film to take home the statuettes in all five major categories. That means Best Picture, Best Actor (Anthony Hopkins), Best Actress (Jodie Foster), Best Adapted Screenplay (Ted Tally), and Best Director (Jonathan Demme) all went to this movie, which is very, very impressive. This movie serves as the middle chapter in three volumes, with Michael Mann’s Manhunter as the first and Hannibal as the third and final installment. In the realm of serial killer cinema, I don’t think it gets any better than this, as you have all the usual elements, but with a stellar cast and excellent direction. Other films in the serial killer genre tend to pile on the blood and cheap twists, while this one relies on strong performances and writing, but some blood is still evident also. I am sure some flaws exist, as they do with all films, but I think this is one of the best films of all time. The subject matter is handled well and never overly exploited, while the cast and crew all turn in superb work. I give this film my highest recommendation, anyone interested in cinema should give The Silence of The Lambs a look. This disc from Criterion is packed with some nice supplements and well worth the extra price for fans, since there is no certainty that these bonus materials will show up on later editions.
His career started on a less than stellar note with Caged Heat, but director Jonathan Demme has gone on to more than prove his worth. I am not a fan of some of his films, but all are made well and make for an impressive resume. Demme, director of photography Tak Fujimoto, and the rest of the crew create an excellent visual atmosphere for this movie, which pays off in dividends as far as impact and suspense. Demme ensures the visuals are effective, but never allows them to be too flashy, which could draw the viewer away from the real focus. So the atmosphere is very good, but you never become lost in it and forget about the characters and storyline. Other films directed by Demme include Stop Making Sense, Beloved, Something Wild, Married To The Mob, and Philadelphia. I love the performance here of Anthony Hopkins (Nixon, Freejack) and though he goes over the top at times, this is one of my all time favorite turns. The cast here also includes Jodie Foster (Contact, Nell), Kasi Lemmons (Hard Target, Candyman), Lawrence Wrentz (White Man’s Burden, Congo), Scott Glenn (Backdraft, Courage Under Fire), and Ted Levine (Wild Wild West, Heat).
Video: How does it look?
The Silence of The Lambs is presented in a 1.85:1 widescreen transfer, which is not enhanced for widescreen televisions. This is not as sharp and impressive as we’ve come to expect, but this the finest home video edition thus far. The main flaws come from the lack of a new anamorphic widescreen transfer, but the source print here also looks worse than a recent film should. But in the end, this is an above average transfer and I think fans will be quite pleased. The film’s gritty edge comes off well here, with a certain level of intentional grain and color sapped hues, which are very well replicated. The contrast is stark and more than solid, but some level of overly bright spots can be seen. I would love to see another version (by any studio) which sports a new anamorphic transfer, but this one is still a very good effort. [Editor: I would assume that a film as well-received and popular as this will certainly get the treatment that it deserves. But what do I know?]
Audio: How does it sound?
The included stereo surround track is more than up to the task and in truth, I feel a full 5.1 remix would be of little consequence. There are some times when more range and depth would be nice, but in the end, this track is more than adequate. The sound effects are very distinct and blend well into the mix as a whole, while Howard Shore’s musical score is presented in fine form also. The dialogue is razor sharp here and I heard no problems, as volume and clarity are on the money at all times. This track might not be as explosive as more action driven films, but it is very effective and serves the material well.
Supplements: What are the extras?
This disc has some cool bonus features, but the main draw is an audio commentary track with Jonathan Demme, Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, Ted Tally, and real life agent John Douglas. This is an informative commentary track to be sure and with the comments of Douglas, we get a look into the real world of serial killers, as well as the production of the film via the others. This track is done the usual fashion used by Criterion, where the comments have been edited together for maximum impact and effectiveness. The disc also includes a selection of quotes from real serial killers, a look into the art of criminal profiling, and a selection of storyboards, which make for a welcome addition. You can also glance at the storyboards for one of Hannibal’s more intense sequences, then compare them with the finished product, very cool. Rounding out the disc are some deleted scenes and alternate takes, which are very cool and some offer more insight into certain portions of the film. A very nice array of supplements, which enhance the movie experience more than a little, at least in my opinion.