Review: The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

silenceof1The Silence Lamb is a horror film at times, a thriller at others, and most definitely a character study in its entirety. It features two wonderfully different figures in budding young FBI agent-to-be Clarice Starling and incarcerated serial killer Hannibal Lecter played so impeccably by Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins respectively.

It begins as a hunt for a serial killer named Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine), who for some reason kidnaps his victims, kills them, and skins them like some kind of perverse trophy. This in itself makes for an interesting albeit grisly storyline. The race is on to find this man before he murders his latest victim who happens to be the daughter of a prominent senator. Thus, there is an immediate need to get inside his head and figure out what the next logical steps should be. That’s when Agent Jack Crawford (Scott Glenn) of the Behavioral Science Unit calls on Starling to help him out.

The narrative of Silence of the Lambs is twofold because this larger manhunt becomes the backdrop for an arguably far more interesting development. The initial meeting and budding relationship, if we can call it that, between agent Starling and cannibalistic psychopath Dr. Lecter is deliciously intriguing. He just might be the key to unlock this case, but it’s not without peril.

silenceof2As the saying goes, “Quid pro quo.” Lecter is rather intrigued by Starling, so different and far franker than any of the other people who get thrown his direction. So he agrees to help her only asking in return that she open up about herself. It seems like a dangerous proposition with Lecter constantly playing mind games. He’s skilled at probing, dissecting, teasing, and prodding. But Starling willingly goes through his questioning to get help with the case. After all, who better to catch a serial killer than another serial killer?

They touch on the death of Starling’s father, a town Marshall, and her horror in seeing the slaughter of newborn lambs. In return, he tells her that all the information she needs is in the case files. But antagonistic Dr. Chilton is more a hindrance than a help to Starling’s case, and she must figure out the rest on her own.

Going through the files she finally makes some headway in her search for Buffalo Bill, but an FBI tactical unit already has sights on his location. Then there’s a surprising about-face in the case, not to mention that Lecter escapes his cell, kills his guards and is on the lam. Starling is not in danger from him, but he is looking to have an old friend for dinner instead.

Ultimately the plucky young agent comes through big in her case and in the academy. The film ends on a high note for her, but with it comes a titillating call from Dr. Lecter. He pays his respects for her recent graduation then goes off after his newest victim. Such a conscientious killer to offer up his congratulations like that.

How does one go about playing a man so evil and yet intricately interesting on so many levels? Hopkins said himself that he copied a friend who never blinked because it always makes people on edge. He likened his voice to an amalgamation of Katharine Hepburn and Truman Capote if that even makes sense. Finally, he saw parallels to another famed movie villain, the computer HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey.  Both so intelligent, so unfeeling and ultimately so deadly. What might put Lecter a trifle above HAL are his chilling unflinching facial expressions that are sure to send shivers down the spine of any normal person. A face like that just doesn’t leave you.

4.5/5 Stars

Review: Taxi Driver (1976)

taxidriver1Well. Whatever it is, you should clean up this city here, because this city here is like an open sewer you know. It’s full of filth and scum. And sometimes I can hardly take it. ~ Robert De Niro as Travis Bickle

Taxi Driver‘s Travis Bickle is an American icon representing anyone and everyone who has ever felt like an outcast, outsider, or misfit. He’s the perfect embodiment of any of the angst or disgust that might surge through our veins at any given time. Except before I ever saw Martin Scorsese’s film, I always assumed him to be a thuggish villain. But his character is more complex than that. He’s far more relatable than I would have initially given him credit for.

The film actually opens feeling like the pilot of the Sitcom Taxi or something. There’s Bernard Hermann’s beautifully cool jazz-infused score and then the illuminating lights of an average New York evening. It feels strangely peaceful in spite of all that is going to go down.

Travis is an ex-Vietnam vet who takes a taxi driving job for the strangest of reasons. He just wants something that will have him working long hours and he isn’t too particular about what part of town he ends up in. From the get-go, he strikes the audience as a quiet almost silent observer of all that takes place around him on the streets every night. He’ll sit around with a couple cabbies as they chew the fat, but he’s essentially isolated — a repressed young man who doesn’t really express himself. His existence feels tragic and lonely, certainly not deadly.

taxidriver2There is a small beacon of hope when a pretty campaign volunteer named Betsy (Cybil Sheppard) catches his eye, and he has an extremely awkward interaction with her but it lands him a date. But Travis just doesn’t quite know how to act, he hasn’t learned what it means to be in a relationship and he has an error in judgment while they are out. However, he doesn’t see it that way. He feels his attempts at kindness were completely rejected.

Then, he also begins to notice a young hooker out on the streets and his next mission is to get her away from there back home. He thinks it’s the right thing to do and he means well but young streetwise Iris (Jodie Foster) doesn’t seem to want his charity. So once again Travis seems unwanted and not needed when he is trying to do something nice.

Travis even acknowledges to his colleague Wizard that he’s getting all twisted up inside and confused. He’s distraught and he has no way to deal with it so his outlet includes a heavy strength regimen and loading up on a ton of guns. Never a good sign, but it his mind’s eye it’s all to clean up the streets of the scum of the earth.

However, first he attends a rally for a presidential candidate that Betsy will be at and he has intent to cause harm, but he backs out at the last minute and goes to Plan B confronting Iris’s pimp Sport (Harvey Keitel) and shooting him. The inner demons of Travis are unleashed as he goes off, but his delusions of grandeur reassure him that this is all for Iris. This is for her good. All this bloodshed.

taxidriver4The final moments after his rampage have Travis receiving a letter from Irises parents who are grateful for his actions to save their daughter from corruption. Then, a fully recuperated Travis finds Cybil sitting in the back seat of his taxi cab in all her glory. It’s beyond his wildest dreams, which begs the question is this reality, or is this just a clever construction of his own brain? Another delusion of grandeur. It’s a wonderful open-ended finale.

Paul Schrader’s script is a wonderful character study giving introspection into one troubled man’s psyche. However, there is controversy on two fronts. It’s rumored that John Hinckley Jr. who tried to assassinate Ronald Reagan was influenced by this film and also the finale seems to reflect many people who commit mass shootings. Oftentimes they are people who are deeply troubled and are looking for some type of attention. But with that desire comes often deadly consequences.

taxidriver3Martin Scorsese’s film has also received pointed criticism for its violence which is hard to downplay. However, Taxi Driver remains interesting because it is not bloated with killing (in fact only one scene is actually bloody). Most of the film has to do with relationships or lack thereof because a lot of what Travis does is watch and listen. It might be Martin Scorsese in a cameo as a jealous husband or a presidential candidate asking Bickle’s opinion from the back seat. Furthermore, like any warm-blooded boy, he knows that Cybil Sheppard is a dream girl. And he has enough compassion to want Iris to have a normal childhood. It’s just that his conscientiousness is misdirected and subverted.

The film resigns itself to following this one man in the wasteland that is New York. It’s starkly beautiful and thought-provoking placing a troubled anti-hero in front a canvas of urban realism. I could never condone his behavior, but then again I could never be completely against him either.

4.5/5 Stars

Taxi Driver (1976)

d184d-taxi_driver_posterDirected by Martin Scorsese, the film stars Robert De Niro with Jodie Foster and Cybil Sheppard. The story opens with a Vietnam vet, Travis Bickle (De Niro) who takes a job as a taxi driver. Travis is a quiet and lonely man who is turned off by the scum and filth he sees on the streets of New York. He becomes enthralled with a beautiful campaign worker who eventually turns him off. Then he also comes in contact with a young girl who makes her living working the streets. His frustration deepens and he begins to work out and collect weapons. It becomes obvious he is about to explode and after an initial failed attempt he does  just that. However, ironically the aftermath leaves him as a hero. Travis is an interesting character because you feel sorry for him and yet he does things that are truly wrong. I found Bernard Hermann’s score, the voice-over narration, and the cryptic ending all to be interesting parts of this film.

4.5/5 Stars

The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Starring Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins in two memorable performances, the film opens with a young FBI agent in training, Clarice Starling (Foster). A serial killer nicknamed Buffalo Bill is on the loose and Starling is given the assignment of talking to the incarcerated Hannibal Lecter (Hopkins). He formally was a brilliant psychiatrist and he turned into a cannibalistic killer. Lecter gives Starling hints on how to find the killer but not without forcing her to open up about her past. She closes in on the murderer and after some tense moments she finishes the job a hero. Now a certified FBI agent, Starling gets a call from Lecter who had escaped previously. He bids her farewell as chilling as ever and this time he is a free man. The acting was good and there were definitely some great thrills.

4.5/5 Stars