DIRECTOR: Jonathan Demme
May Contain Spoilers!
Hannibal Lecter’s movie career began back in 1986, with Michael Mann’s, Manhunter, with Brian Cox taking on the role, made iconic by Anthony Hopkins, right here, in what could be considered the sequel. But Manhunter would be remade as Red Dragon in 2002, negating that status.
Jonathan Demme’s adaptation of Thomas Harris’ novel, was an unbridled hit as well as an instant and withstanding classic, supported by strong imagery, coupled with outstanding performances and a screenplay which must have served as some form of inspiration for Chris Carter’s, The X Files television series. The Silence Of The Lambs is in my opinion and certainly at the time which it was made, the best FBI procedural film ever made, taking a mature, yet horrific look at an investigations and man hunts for serial killers, this is still, after over 20 years, a harrowing take on a very real and haunting subject.
But then the comparisons are struck between Brian Cox and Anthony Hopkins’, Doctor Hannibal Lecter. Many feel, that even though Hopkins has created such an iconic character, it is hyper-realistic, with a chilling and darkly comedic take on who is essentially a super-serial-killer. Cox, on the other hand, was dark, sinister and just as evil but also somewhat understated. Realistic isn’t always better and this is a case in point.
The world feels bleak, with a deranged would be, but most defiantly not, trans-sexual serial killer, Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine), who is kidnapping and murdering plus sized young women in ordered to harvest portions of their flesh to fashion what can only be described as a “Woman Suit”. Lecter, or “Hannibal The Cannibal” was once his doctor and offers to help the FBI, namely fledgling agent Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) in profiling Bill in exchange for snippets of personal information about her life.
She obliges and the pair seem to form a bizarre bond, whilst Lecter is plotting his escape from the tyrannical and manipulative auspices on his doctor, Frederick Chilton (Anthony Heald). The plot is simple, as they have three days the save the final victim but the story is far from such. This is a psychological thriller at the top of its game, let alone the genre as a whole. Not perfect, with Howard Shore’s decent score poorly mixed and a slightly less than cohesive narrative, with Lecter’s disappearance from the story about two-thirds the way in, after his horrific escape from police custody, but the details and the tone are both disturbing as well as gripping.
There’s a lot of minutia to discuss, with issues of feminism, sexual desire and the misunderstandings about the homosexual elements which, certainly in 1991, caused controversy as many perceived that the film implied that transsexuals are potentially twisted serial killers, or in the making, but the film does go out of its way to dismiss that and points out that Buffalo Bill clearly IS NOT a trans-sexual and has been refused a sex change at least once because he’s not suitable.
The film is about coveting what you can’t have, with Demme choosing to shoot the actors eyes, often seemingly looking directly at us. There are many layers to this film, with sexual deviation or sexual desire taking centre strange, but even though the screenplay, the source material and direction are all first-rate, they all pail in comparison to the performances, namely Foster and Hopkins.
A difficult but utterly compelling watch and a film with a lasting legacy, both as a serial killer film and nod to the mainstream audiences intelligence.