Rookie FBI agent Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) is assigned to get into the mind of notorious incarcerated serial killer Dr Hannibal ‘the Cannibal’ Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) to get his evaluation on the elusive Buffalo Bill, a serial killer who’s been abducting and killing young women. When a prominent senator’s daughter is kidnapped, it becomes a race against time to find her before she is killed and all the while Lecter is playing mind-games with Starling as well as any help he can provide…
The first of Thomas Harris’s Hannibal novels to be adapted for the screen, only to be followed some years later with some very lacklustre (but inevitable!) follow-ups, despite it’s age this remains one of the most effective chillers of modern times. Despite the mainstream appeal of the film, the grainy lighting and laid-back budget give it an art-house feel that sets it apart from other such films that were as successful. The film manages some effectively disturbing scenes that make it a not altogether pleasant viewing experience.
Performances wise, in a very early role, a young Foster shows her promise for future roles, with a gripping portrayal of naivety and vulnerability here that is very compelling and convincing, even though there are some plausibility problems with someone as junior as her being assigned to do something like that. Hopkins too is brilliant as Lecter, playing a dangerous man behind bars who’s ability to get inside your head and see the things you don’t want him to see makes him no less dangerous, if not more so, than if he was on the outside. He’s certainly received the most acclaim for his role over the years, but in my humble opinion, he’s actually over-shadowed (though only slightly!) by Ted Levine as Buffalo Bill, a truly extraordinary psychopath with an unsettling sexuality disorder that is probably one of the nastiest things ever to be seen in such a mainstream film. As supporting FBI agent Crawford, Scott Glenn is impressive but sort of just faded into DTV land after this film.
It’s easily one of the most popular films ever made, so it’s likely a lot of you are familiar with it already, but with reviews on the so-inferior follow-up films Red Dragon and Hannibal, I thought it only right that I’d finally give this first film a mention. Truly remarkable.