Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Silence of the Lambs

One of the things I recall about this movie is that it was marketed and presented as something of a horror movie. Perhaps I grew up around one slasher flick too many, but this isn't what I'd associate with a horror movie. Horror, through no fault of my own, has become associated with particularly dim teenagers going off to engage in premarital relations and then getting stabbed by someone in a mask. That's not this movie, and really not horror in general if you think of it. This gets much closer to what horror actually is, and weirdly far from what a horror film is often held to be.

The story is fairly well known, of course. There's a scary serial killer (known as Buffalo Bill, and played by Ted Levine) whose murdering the larger lady in order to make a lady suit. Clarice Starling, played by Jodie Foster, is a young almost-FBI agent, called in to talk to crazy psycho killer Hannibal Lector (Anthony Hopkins) in order to see if a serial killer could somehow help understand other serial killers. There's a time limit, ratcheting tension, and a thick fog of psychology wrapped around everyone.

This is what you might call an actor's movie. It lives and dies on the performances of all the characters, and whether or not they can believably portray the menace or determination (depending on the role) required to effectively create the tension. While there are violent scenes and some gore, that's just an inevitability. The real scares come from what the characters do and say, especially Hannibal. He's often made to look directly at the camera, seemingly staring into your soul. The dialog alone ensures you know he is a bad man, and having him stare right at you reinforces that.

But a camera trick is a camera trick, helpful but not any good if your actors can't pull it off. Luckily, Anthony Hopkins is an amazing actor, embodying the character so perfectly you may want to check his basement for bodies. His portrayal exudes quiet menace, and when he finally is shown to be violent, it's an inevitability more than a shock. The best part is, the rest of the acting is fantastic as well. Jodie Foster manages to convey more in a twitch and a slight move of her head than some actors can do with a lengthy monologue and interpretive dance. It's not a showy role, but she deserved the Oscar she won.

The script and performances are great, the only problem with the movie lies strictly in the fact that it was made in 1990. I do not know what happened to film stock in the 70s and 8os, but the color has that washed out look all movies of era have. Worse, I was accidentally sent a full screen version, which is terrible. Since the shots were composed to be claustrophobic in wide screen, with heavy emphasis on close ups, full screen just makes it look uncomfortable.

Don't let my film quality nitpicks put you off though. That really is the only thing wrong, this movie is a milestone in smart scares. I mentioned the typical slasher movies before, they scare your primal instincts. This aims to strike a more intellectual center, a full fledged attack on your emotions and reason. That's why even after you forget all the slashers jumping through windows, Anthony Hopkins staring right at you will stay with you forever.

Due to various reasons, Movies at Random will temporarily be less random. Not going away though, I intend to do some write ups on movies that, for whatever reason, are important to me. No screens, and I'm going from memory, but until I get a more permanent address, this will have to do. Stay tuned, same bat time, same bat channel.

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