“Clarice had a little lamb – Buffalo Bill kills to dress.”
One of only three films to win the top five Oscars – Best Actor, Actress, Director, Picture and Screenplay [the others being It Happened One Night and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest] – this is arguably the most critically-acclaimed Girls With Guns film of all time. Foster plays FBI trainee Clarice Starling, sent to interview captive killer Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Hopkins), from where blossoms a strange, symbiotic relationship where both parties need each other. Lecter can help the FBI find an active killer, nicknamed Buffalo Bill because he skins his victims, while Starling is prepared to open herself up, psychologically, to Lecter’s unwavering gaze.
The relationship between the two is the engine that drives the picture, and it proves Starling’s strength that she is able to stand up to Lecter, to the extent that he develops a respect for her. That’s an interesting contrast to her colleagues in the agency, such as Jack Crawford (Glenn), with whom Starling has an unending battle to be treated as an equal: her physical lack of size [apparent right from the start, when she is an an elevator and towered over by her fellow trainees] is belied by her smarts and strength of character, which propel her forward when many would give up. It says a lot about Foster’s performance, that it is not entirely overpowered by Hopkins’ one; Lecter is another case of a great British actor portraying evil to perfection [see also, in different ways, Ben Kingsley, Alan Rickman, Ranulph Fiennes and Christopher Lee]. If Buffalo Bill is the ultimate misogynist, despite his desire to be a woman, Lecter is the ultimate boogeyman, punishing, in unspeakable ways, those he deems unworthy.
It’s Lecter that people remember, quote and fear – to the extent that the movie sometimes topples over as the result of his but Starling is the heart of the film, defying convention by being a heroine who has, basically, no romantic side [there seem to me to be vague homoerotic hints, but that may just be the result of subsequent data about Foster]. She doesn’t sleep with anyone: indeed, she doesn’t appear to sleep, with her life outside the FBI Academy barely sketched. Starling is intensely focused on her task, and prepared to go to any lengths to accomplish it. She is pushed beyond her limits in the process, and digs deeper than she ever imagined possible, on a journey into her personal heart of darkness. If occasionally far-fetched [there being no way the FBI would let a trainee gallivant around on a top-level case like this], this is a landmark entry in the genre, with quality performances that have rarely been matched.
Dir: Jonathan Demme
Star: Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, Scott Glenn, Anthony Heald