MOVIE REVIEW | ***AFI 100*** #74. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

“The American Film Institute’s list of the 100 Greatest Movies was selected by AFI’s blue-ribbon panel of more than 1,500 leaders of the American movie community to commemorate 100 Years of Movies”. Every weekend(ish) during 2015, I’ll review two(ish), counting them down from 100 to 1.


“You know what you look like to me, with your good bag and your cheap shoes? You look like a rube. A well scrubbed, hustling rube with a little taste.”

Airport book level thriller.  Over the top, trashy story.  Big acting, cheap thrills and the most pedestrian level of shocks. The Silence of the Lambs has all of that.  It also has five Oscars to its name.  And for all of that cheap, trashy over the top B-grade schlock, it more than deserves all of those Oscars and has aged amazingly well.

A serial killer nicknamed Buffalo Bill is on the loose, killing and skinning young women.  Jack Crawford (Scott Glenn) of the FBI decides that the incarcerated Hannibal “the Cannibal” Lector (Anthony Hopkins), a psychological genius, might be able to help them profile and find Bill.  Crawford assigns the job to fresh FBI recruit Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster).  In their first meeting, Lector is almost immediately inside her head and playing mind games.

Trading personal stories of Clarice’s past for his own expert analysis of Bill, Lector always dangles just enough help in front of Clarice to make her fall deeper under his spell.  When Bill’s next victim turns out to be the daughter of a senator, the investigation is ramped up a notch and Lector‘s cooperation becomes more important than ever.

I was only 10 or 11 when The Silence of the Lambs came out.  And as lenient as my parents were when it came to the movies I was allowed to watch, this was still a little too notorious and full on.  But The Silence of the Lambs hit culture so hard, I still knew the iconic lines of dialogue, I still knew the broad strokes of the story and I still knew what a big deal it was.  Even as a 10 or 11 year old with no desire to see it, this movie’s impact was inescapable.

It was probably 10 years before I finally did get around to seeing it, and I immediately understood that impact.  The Silence of the Lambs is one of those trashy genre pictures, that tricks people into thinking it’s something more highbrow or important than that.  So all off a sudden, a main stream audience is watching a trashy genre picture without even knowing it.  Which is a good thing, because trashy genre pictures that get it right are some of the most entertaining movies out there.

I can’t imagine I ever would have watched this movie again if it wasn’t for this AFI countdown.  I remember really liking it when I saw it years ago, but not being totally blown away.  But now, I’m glad this countdown made me obliged to sit down and watch The Silence of the Lambs one more time.  It’s an airport book level thriller with an over the top, trashy story, big acting, cheap thrills and the most pedestrian level of shocks.  And it executes all of that to perfection.  Often when a crowd pleasing box office smash snags major Academy Award wins, they’re the quickest to lose their shine and make us realise we were conned at the time.  But The Silence of the Lambs still delivers on all of the shocks and thrills it promised almost a quarter of a century ago.

The Silence of the Lambs
Directed By – Jonathan Demme
Written By – Ted Tally

Academy Awards
Best Picture
Best Actor – Anthony Hopkins
Best Actress – Jodie Foster
Best Director
Best Adapted Screenplay

6 thoughts on “MOVIE REVIEW | ***AFI 100*** #74. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

  1. It’s a great movie. It’s also great propaganda for the FBI, part of a wave of films that came out in the late 80s and early 90s designed to rehabilitate the bureau’s reputation after the revelations about COINTELPRO.

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