Silence of the Lambs

AFI Rank: #65
Year Released: 1991
Director: Jonathan Demme
Actors: Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, Ted Levine, Scott Glenn

Silence of the Lambs has a reputation for horrific violence, but the movie version is one that even the squeamish should be able to watch with only a few eye-coverings. Foster is a FBI trainee who is trying to help track down a serial killer. Hopkins is a captured killer who knows how these people think. Over time Foster is drawn to Hopkins, Hopkins subtly manipulates Foster, and the killer keeps doing his thing. Will Foster track the loose bad guy down in time?

I normally tend to shy away from gruesome movies - but I've seen Silence of the Lambs multiple times and adored it each time. It absolutely deserves its #65 ranking on the AFI top 100. The plot is fantastic and draws you in right from the very beginning. The actors are all fantastic. From Foster to Hopkins, from Levine to Glenn, you see their twist of motivations, their pulls and concerns, and how the relationships build.

Interwoven with the main plot are a variety of sub-themes. I love the scenes that examine the role of men and women in the police / FBI forces. They are handled very deftly. When Foster is presented, she's shown as a strong, athletically talented, intellectually gifted woman. And even so, the men around her look at her and see her beauty. The criminal she passes is crude in how he deals with her. Glenn is both a mentor and interested in her as a woman. The fellow male trainees all turn to watch her as she jogs past. When she and Glenn go to a crime scene, he "protects" her and draws the Sheriff to the side in order to discuss a sensitive topic. Foster is calm, deliberate, and points out the issue to Glenn. He acknowledges that she is right.

Out of all the movies in the AFI top 100, this is amazingly probably the best one in terms of female characters! With all the great movies on this list - Gone with the Wind, Annie Hall, Doctor Zhivago, that feature strong women, it's Silence of the Lambs that features some of the best women-to-women discussions in the entire list. In the vast majority of movies on the AFI list the women are solely there to play against men. They only ever talk with men. But here Foster has a sharp, wise African-American female friend who shares her insight into situations.

There are so many ways in which this movie shines. The plot is engaging and insightful. The actors are masters of their crafts. The tension in the scenes is masterfully handled.

Highly recommended.

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AFI Top 100 Film Listing
Male vs Female Actors in the AFI Top 100
The Bechdel Test in the AFI Top 100