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(1991) (Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins) (R)

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Drama/Suspense: A student at the FBI Academy tries to track down a twisted serial killer through consultations with a notorious cannibal.
In the separate worlds of FBI trainee Clarice Starling (JODIE FOSTER) and psychiatrist/cannibal Hannibal Lecter (ANTHONY HOPKINS), there are vastly different intentions. Clarice must contend with basically working in what looks like a man's world amidst the FBI Academy, evidenced by the looks she gets, those who try to pick up on her, and especially her superior, Jack Crawford (SCOTT GLENN), who sends her out to visit with Lecter on a most urgent quest.

That's to glean enough information from him that will help the Bureau track down a notorious serial killer named Buffalo Bill (TED LEVINE), who kidnaps women, keeps them alive for a few days, then kills and skins them. His apparent next victim, Catherine Martin (BROOKE SMITH), is a Tennessee senator's daughter, and thus the situation becomes much more desperate to find this twisted man.

Dr. Lecter, on the other hand, has been imprisoned in a solitary cell for the past 8 years, known very well for cooking various friends and serving them to those who joined him for dinners at his home. When Clarice comes calling to his cell, he sees it as an opportunity to play a little, to toy with the mind of this burgeoning FBI agent, who has a lot in her past that she would rather keep locked away, but which Lecter takes pleasure in forcing her to dredge up in exchange for badly needed information.

As it's believed that time is running out, deals are hastily made, investigations become more intense, and the search is on for the senator's daughter, to remove her from the clutches of her captor.

OUR TAKE: 10 out of 10
While it may not be important in light of recent domestic economic problems and world events, and can't be controlled by the average citizen, we should be worried about the machinations of current Hollywood executives in remaking films of the '80s, most notably right now with Will Smith working on a remake of "The Karate Kid," which began as karate, but has changed its focus to kung-fu, and has cast Jackie Chan in the role that the late Pat Morita played in the original and in three sequels. "The Karate Kid" is dated to some degree from today's perspective, but serves as a good time capsule of some things '80s.

But what already sounds problematic in this remake, to star Smith's son, is that with Pat Morita, the audience for that film perhaps was not aware of Morita's previous well-known role as Arnold during the decline of the TV show "Happy Days," and Morita was therefore able to stand strong on his own merits. With Chan in the role, audiences are reminded in a flash about the "Rush Hour" movies and previous performances by Chan in various other films. Instead of him being a Mr. Miyagi type, which would be best for the role even today, it's more like, "Oh look! Jackie Chan's playing a mentor."

I harbor the same concerns with a proposed remake of "Romancing the Stone," which featured crackling chemistry between Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner. Find me one actress today who could top the gut-punch beauty Turner embodied in that film. Find me an actor who could laugh as loudly and look as adventurous as Douglas did there. These films are available on DVD, so what's the problem?

And while I wish the executives would simply re-release the originals in theaters, I know they won't because they want to make what they see as their own mark on these films, which I won't assume will be garbage right off, but it still concerns me because with both "The Karate Kid" and "Romancing the Stone" having been released in 1984, the year I was born, how much longer will it be until they come upon the '90s and decide to start ransacking what's there?

While watching "The Silence of the Lambs," which now should be considered classic filmmaking, I pondered this question, mulling over this film as well as others, and it seemed tough. The great films of the '90s have erected impenetrable walls around themselves. Can you imagine someone remaking "Forrest Gump" or even "L.A. Confidential"?

Granted those films are at points in that decade where executives won't look at them right now, but that would be shameful blasphemy. It would be the same with "The Silence of the Lambs," which is thankfully impossible to remake because of the standards it set not just for suspenseful filmmaking, but in profiling serial killers in future films. Think of one serial killer outside of Buffalo Bill that can make your skin crawl as much as watching Ted Levine's performance. And you've got to love Levine's career trajectory now, currently playing Captain Leland Stottlemeyer on "Monk." From avoiding the law for most of "Silence of the Lambs" to becoming the law. He's that impressive an actor, particularly when we learn the details of Buffalo Bill, who kidnaps women, keeps them alive and tortures them for a few days, and then kills and skins them.

Why he skins them is a mystery to the FBI, but also gruesome when it's learned why he does that. But Buffalo Bill is not the most important component of this film. He's the reason for all that happens, why FBI trainee Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) is dispatched by Jack Crawford (Scott Glenn), her superior at the academy, to talk to Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins), a former psychiatrist and current cannibal, who has been locked up in a solitary cell for eight years. Eight years permits a lot of time to think, and not much to do, because of the adversarial relationship Lecter maintains with the asylum's warden, Dr. Chilton (Anthony Heald, appropriately creepy). He has drawings on his walls, which he did, but it's not enough. A little game appears to be in order and that's what Lecter strives for when he meets Clarice.

Clarice is dealing with her own issues by the time she meets up with Lecter. She exists in what's basically a man's world at the academy, men looking at her up and down, while she is just looking to graduate from the academy and get ahead in the Bureau. She ignores the wiles of those who would want her, and is razor-focused on her work, exemplified by Jonathan Demme's equally sharp direction, which remains a standard-bearer in modern cinema because of his handheld work to match the views of certain characters as well as the atmosphere they're in, and sometimes maintaining first-person views with the camera, such as it is with the climax of the film, which involves total darkness and night-vision goggles. He brings us deep into the world of what were originally author Thomas Harris's characters, but are made new and notable by screenwriter Ted Tally and Demme.

This is especially true in Clarice's meetings with Lecter, who barely blinks under surgical white light in his cell. He explains what he believes she is, and may very well be right, because Clarice doesn't counter his analysis. He agrees to give her the information she seeks, only if she reveals bits of her own past if prompted, which brings us full-bore into the nature of Lecter and Clarice. Lecter likes to manipulate situations when he's able, especially true when he demands a deal for a transfer to a different facility in exchange for giving the real name and details of Buffalo Bill. That turns out to be another clue Clarice investigates, as the situation gets more desperate, because the next woman Bill has kidnapped turns out to be the daughter of a U.S. senator from Tennessee.

Clarice is entrenched in situations, with men who try to manipulate her, but she knows that the job takes precedent; she doesn't care about what men think or what they say, trying to impress her enough to possibly get her into bed. She's not that kind of woman and if she was interested, she would go for it on her own terms.

There's a moment of her character to admire when she's in a room full of police officers looking at her, some leering. She may be vastly uncomfortable on the inside, but she doesn't show it on the outside. And when she has to order these same officers out of a room of a funeral home where a body needs to be examined, her disposition does not waver. Though they may look at her like she has no right to shoo them out and she should just get back to knitting or whatever they believe, it doesn't faze her, at least from what we can see.

What the efforts of this masterful cast and director Demme show us about serial killers on film is that it can't just be about how much blood can be shown onscreen, or how gruesome the acts are. That has become the case with films in the recent and further-back past involving killers of this nature, but "The Silence of the Lambs" is very aware that you have to attach personalities to the people featured.

We have to know their quirks, their ways of going about life, how they dress, etc. To involve a viewer in a mystery or a mission, that's the most important thing and while it may sound basic, it's especially crucial in films like these. It's what has made "The Silence of the Lambs" last as long as it has, and why it will soon be released in the Blu-Ray format. Imagine the dead bodies made more detailed. Makes you shiver already, and that's what makes it work. It has maintained its reputation as a chilling drama after all these years, and that's why it gets an enthusiastic 10 out of 10. (R. Aronsky)

Reviewed off DVD / Posted February 23, 2009

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