48. EMPIRE MAGAZINE GREATEST: The Silence of the Lambs

July 3, 2018

Director: Jonathan Demme
Screenplay: Ted Tally
Starring: Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, Scott Glenn, Ted Levine
Runtime: 118 Minutes

 

Original UK Release: 1991

 

★★★★☆

 

Jonathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs had quite an act to follow after the most recent Thomas Harris adaptation in Michael Mann’s Manhunter, but what Demme and his crew manage to accomplish in bringing to life the slightly dubious novel is something rather extraordinary.

 

Much of its success derives from a combination of bold elemental forces at play. For one, Foster’s performance as the young and inexperienced Clarice Starling is fantastic, charting the loss of innocence and the hardening of skin as the real world horrors of the narrative takes its toll on her. But it’s the cackling, mesmerising chemistry that she manages to share with Anthony Hopkins’ ludicrously pleasant antagonist – who makes this version of Hannibal Lecter entirely his own - that draws from its greatest strengths.

 

The filmmaking on display shows remarkable tension in its restraint, punctuated unannounced by bursts of bloody violence and terror, and the debt to be owed to Ted Tally’s intelligent and compelling vision in the screenplay is an effort to applaud. The set design for pretty much every major sequence and location is immaculately placed, specifically stepping into territory’s of gothic horror in both the lower levels of Buffalo Bill’s home – with a brilliantly deranged performance by Ted Levine – and Dr Lecter’s dungeon-like prison. 

 

Tak Fujimoto’s photography is amongst some of the best of his career, framing and focusing on shots perfectly to tell the story even without words – bettered only by its subtle editing details that both linger and cut just when required while stretching out the tension. Overlaying all of this is Howard Shore’s hauntingly loud and old-fashioned score. 

 

There are moments of disconnect where the plot seems to get away from itself with multiple detours, but as a thriller, it’s hard to knock the tremendous effort that’s behind this creature.

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