by Miguel E. Rodriguez

DIRECTOR: Richard Attenborough
CAST: Sean Connery, Ryan O’Neal, Gene Hackman, Michael Caine, Anthony Hopkins, James Caan, Maximilian Schell, Elliott Gould, Denholm Elliott, Laurence Olivier, Robert Redford, and MANY others
Everyone’s a Critic Category: “A Movie Set During an Historic War”

PLOT: A detailed account of an overly ambitious Allied forces operation intended to end the war by Christmas of 1944.

In September of 1944, in an attempt to land a finishing blow to Germany following D-Day, Allied forces launched Operation Market Garden, a bold offensive that would drop over 30,000 soldiers behind enemy lines.  The objective was to capture and hold three strategic bridges in the Netherlands, over which a massive column of British tanks would then roll straight into the Ruhr, the heart of Germany’s industrial complex.  Neutralize the Ruhr, and taking Berlin would be inevitable.  However, as with so many other simple plans in history, multiple factors led to the operation getting bogged down at the third bridge, and after massive Allied casualties, the offensive was abandoned.

Based on a bestselling novel by Cornelius Ryan (who also wrote the novel The Longest Day), the movie of A Bridge Too Far resembles the actual Operation Market Garden, not just in appearances, but also in its ambition, scope, and ultimate failure to achieve its goal.  However, as a pure combat movie, I give it credit where it’s due.

First off, look at this cast.  There had not been an assemblage of so many of Hollywood’s leading men since 1962’s The Longest Day (“42 International Stars”, that movie’s posters proclaimed).  Naturally, most of the actors are pitch perfect in their roles, with one glaring exception.  Whoever thought Gene Hackman was just the right guy to play a Polish general was either desperate or foolhardy, or both.  Hackman is a talented actor, without question, but his attempt at a Polish accent is a MAJOR distraction from whatever he’s saying.  Every once in a while, it even pulls a disappearing act, not that it matters.

ANYHOO.  The all-star cast.  To offset the lengthy running time, the story is told in semi-episodic fashion, which makes me wonder if someone hasn’t thought about rebooting this movie as a Netflix/HBO/streaming miniseries.  I’d watch it.  Within each of these episodes, it helps if we remember right away that Michael Caine is the leader of the tank column, Sean Connery is heading up one of the ground units, Anthony Hopkins is holding the bridge at Arnhem, and Elliot Gould is the cigar-chewing American trying to get a temporary bridge put together, and so on.  It’s a rather brilliant way of using visual shorthand to keep the audience oriented during its nearly three-hour running time (including an intermission at some screenings).

There is one “episode” featuring James Caan that has literally – LITERALLY – nothing to do with the plot.  He plays an Army grunt who has promised his young captain not to let him die.  After a grueling ground battle, Caan finds his captain’s lifeless body and, after improbably running a German blockade, holds an Army medic at gunpoint, forcing him to examine his dead captain for signs of life.  I read that, unlikely thought it may seem, this incident really did happen as presented in the film (more or less).  All well and good.  But what does it have to do with capturing bridges?  I’m sure the story is in the novel, but the movie takes a good 10-to-15-minute detour from the plot to follow this bizarre story.  Did director Richard Attenborough think we needed comic relief or something?  I remember liking that story as a kid, but watching it now…is it necessary?  Discuss amongst yourselves, I’ll expect a summary of your answer at tomorrow’s class.

I want to mention the combat scenes in A Bridge Too Far.  First off, I never served in the armed forces.  Well, never in combat.  I was in the Air Force for about a week.  (Well, Air Force boot camp in Oklahoma for about a week…LONG story.)  So, my observations of the combat scenes are less about historical accuracy and more about how they compare to other films.  While some of the combat portrayed is rightfully horrific in its own way – the river crossing in those ridiculous canvas boats, the slaughter of the paratroopers, the seemingly endless holdout at Arnhem – a lot of the combat, particularly the tank shelling and the skirmishes at Arnhem, is…I have to say, it’s kind of fun to watch.  There’s something, I don’t know, charming about it all.  It reminded me of how I used to play with my army men and Star Wars figures, or how I used to run around with neighborhood friends wearing plastic helmets and pretending we were “good-guys-and-bad-guys” while throwing dirt clods at each other and making fake explosion noises.  It was movies like A Bridge Too Far that shaped my young impressions of what wartime combat was like, and whether it was realistic or not was irrelevant.

Anyway, enough nostalgia.  Here’s the sad truth: A Bridge Too Far, despite its thrilling combat and all-star cast, falls short of delivering a truly meaningful war film.  There are half-hearted attempts to drum up some dramatic impact with scenes in a makeshift field hospital and a speech in Dutch from Liv Ullman wearing her best “isn’t-war-awful” expression, but for some reason those scenes fall flat.  (I did like the “war-is-futile” scene with that one soldier who runs out to retrieve the air-dropped canister, only to discover…well, I won’t spoil it, but it’s a good scene.)

After writing almost 1,000 words, I’m no closer to explaining why A Bridge Too Far falls short.  It’s still an entertaining watch, but I’ve really got to be in the mood for it.  It’s rather like reading a historical novel that isn’t particularly thrilling like a Crichton or a Clancy, but it does deliver some eyebrow-raising information.  It doesn’t hit me in the heart, but it does feed my brain.  Maybe that’s not such a bad thing in the long run, but if movies are about stirring emotions, I must say: A Bridge Too Far is no Saving Private Ryan.

(Sure, I probably could have just said that instead of writing this long-ass review, but where’s the fun in that?)


Best line or memorable quote:
“Remember what the general said: we’re the cavalry. It would be bad form to arrive in advance of schedule. In the nick of time would do nicely.”

Would you recommend this film?  Why or why not?
Ultimately, I would recommend it to film buffs who have not yet seen it.  If nothing else, it’s an interesting time capsule movie.  This would be the last time for a VERY long time that anyone would attempt to make an epic film with a truly all-star cast.  …come to think of it, I can’t think of a major, epic drama since A Bridge Too Far with an actual A-list cast.  Can you?


By Marc S. Sanders

When director Gregory Hoblit was shooting this film, did he ever wonder how preposterous this courtroom mystery is?  

This ridiculous effort featuring a tired Anthony Hopkins as a suspect representing himself, and a very green Ryan Gosling as the prosecuting attorney proudly boasts a centerpiece storyline of simply finding a gun used in an attempted murder.  That’s it really.  No nuances.  No subtle riddles.  Just a “what happened to the gun?” plot line.  

It’s any wonder that I had never heard of this movie until I found it on Netflix.

Take my advice.  Find something else on Netflix.


By Marc S. Sanders

Mission: Impossible II is undoubtedly the weakest installment of Tom Cruise’s series, adapted from the classic tv show. Action Director John Woo is normally regarded as “ACTION DIRECTOR JOHN WOO” because he can only direct action. He hardly ever directs story. There’s no dimension to his characters and nothing intriguing. It’s all just glitz and neon colors in his cinematography. No weight at stake in Action Director John Woo’s action.

A third act fist fight between Cruise’s Ethan Hunt and a very, very uninteresting villain played by Dougray Scott gets very tiresome, very, very quickly. Punch, kick, tackle, twirl, take off your jacket, get up in very slowwwwww motion, throw off your sunglasses, and do it again and again and one more time.

The MacGuffin of the picture is a virus and the anti-virus. Hunt recruits a sexy thief played by Thandie Newton to infiltrate Dougray Scott, her ex-boyfriend seeking to cash in on the prize at hand. Somewhere, lost in Robert Towne’s script, Scott’s character gets wise to the fact that of all the “M:I” agents out there, Ethan Hunt is the one onto him even though they never come in contact with one another until the middle section of the film is complete. So, the bad guy, at times, disguises himself as Hunt. Screenwriter Robert Towne thought he’d get one over on the audience with the disguise twists that the M:I franchise is known for. Sadly, it’s not subtle enough in this picture. All twists can be foreshadowed as early as the opening credits actually.

Action Director John Woo really fails with this effort. He makes a terrible habit of amping up the gloss of his film with an abundance of slowwwwww motion actions and reactions to accompany a mostly mandolin soundtrack from Hans Zimmer. Beautiful set pieces of music. Though none of it belongs in this film. Zimmer’s work here is better suited for something more genuinely romantic and exotic, without the revving motorcycle rides and bare-knuckle brawls in the final act of the film.

In addition, Action Director John Woo is not given much action to “action direct.” There’s a lot of bland talking in Towne’s script. So much so that we finally arrive at what the film promises, only it’s very late in Act 2, and then drags on very slowwwwwwwly in Act 3.

For a brief stint early on, you get the impression that Cruise is adopting a flirtatious James Bond approach with Newton’s character. They hide away cuddled in an empty bathtub and quickly bed one another, but Towne writes no sexual innuendo to go with Cruise & Newton’s grins, or their shiny, moisturized complexions.

There’s no humor either. There’s really no reason to like Ethan Hunt here. He has nothing to say. All he does is walk in slowwwww motion in response to Action Director John Woo.

Cruise, again as producer, makes the mistake of only allowing his hand in the cookie jar. No one gets to do anything of great importance except him. A team is assembled to just watch Tom Cruise play and walk slowwwwwly. Cruise hired his own fan club for this film, including Anthony Hopkins. Now here’s a charming chap playing Hunt’s supervisor. You see him appear for the first time early on. He returns in the epilogue, and when the film has concluded you realize that Oscar winner Anthony Hopkins next to nothing to do, really. He doesn’t debate or joke with Cruise. He, like most of the cast of the first two M:I films, just tells Hunt who to meet next. What potential for a great character played by a marvelous character actor and it’s regrettably squandered away.

Fortunately, the approach of the subsequent M:I films went in different direction following Action Director John Woo’s contribution. All elements of this short-changed story were abandoned for better material from better directors to later come.


By Marc S. Sanders

Thor’s third adventure in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, subtitled Ragnarök, is altogether fun, silly and primarily very campy. Sure, Cate Blanchett looks wickedly theatric as Thor’s evil older sibling Hera, but even she is not taking any of this too seriously.

There’s not much to evaluate within this film. Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston return as brothers at odds, Thor & Loki, and get sidetracked on a gladiator battle planet where they encounter a lighter, more tender and funnier Hulk care of Mark Ruffalo. The camp also comes to the forefront by way of Jeff Goldblum as the Gamemaster, a role obviously engineered to cater to his dialect idiosyncrasies.

The film is lots of neon colors of CGI and set piece junk helmed by director Taika Waititi. I commend Marvel Studios for recruiting these (at the time) unheard of directors with insightful visions. While most every Marvel film to date has its own unique appearance, Thor: Ragnarök is a balance of the prior Thor films, banking on the humorous success of the Guardians Of The Galaxy films.

The gem this film offers is combining Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” with a fierce lightening powered one eyed Thor to fend off a few baddies. Compliments also to a bad ass, and sometimes drunk, Tessa Thompson as the Asgardian known as Valkyrie.

A favorite moment is an encounter with Benedict Cumberbatch as Dr. Strange. Good editing and direction offer an inspired Three Stooges routine where Thor is unexpectedly thrust about down a staircase or through a room. Plays like a great cartoon short.

Ragnarök has some shocking moments in its ending, but the weight of drama or story is none too burdensome.

It’s nothing special of a film, but it is amusing and gleeful, especially when Thor is forced to a chair while Willy Wonka’s “Pure Imagination” plays like annoying elevator music. That is sure to make the God Of Thunder irritable, and we the audience only gain from it.

Thor: Ragnarök is really a fun family movie of adventure, good character design and laughs.


By Marc S. Sanders

So this may be director Brett Ratner’s best film, but that doesn’t make it a great film. Ratner directs Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lechter in this prequel film to The Silence of The Lambs.

Hopkins does his best with a script that lacks the wit of the original Lambs script. The puns are lacking this time as he plays mind games with Edward Norton’s FBI agent who is trying to apprehend “The Tooth Fairy,” a deranged killer of families played by a disturbing Ralph Fiennes.

Red Dragon boasts a who’s who of a great cast; Hopkins, Norton, Fiennes, Harvey Keitel, Emily Blunt, Mary Louise Parker and Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Yet, every player is incredibly boring. It’s as if they memorized their lines and just recited them at the call of action. There are no nuances. No fear or fascination within their interactions, and thus what’s at stake seems awfully minimal. We get a LOT of Norton just talking to himself or a tape recorder. It’s all very flat.

Ratner’s art director should be commended for effectively duplicating Hannibal’s prison from Lambs. That’s where the eye-popping stops, however. Hannibal’s infamous muzzle mask also makes a return.

I remember loving this book by Thomas Harris. It was so imaginative and descriptive. Very fast reading. Ratner gets all the important scenes in his film as well as some additional fodder for Hopkins but it’s all color by numbers. Nothing is here to carry a swell of emotion. No close ups. No lighting technique.

The best that Ratner comes up with is to chain Hannibal to a steel cable like a wild animal. He lunges for Norton and the chain rattles. Meh. A cat jumping out of nowhere has given me worse nightmares. Ratner forgot to cast the cat, however.


By Marc S. Sanders

Like Louis Letterier’s The Incredible Hulk, director Alan Taylor’s Thor: The Dark World is a very underrated installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It focuses on a lot of humor with well edited action and moments that allow all the major players to offer up good material.

First Chris Hemsworth as Thor. Yeah, he’s doing the same thing and that’s fine. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Moving on… This is an important chapter in the MCU, as it introduces the second of the legendary Infinity Stones, the red Aether, which consumes Thor’s love interest from Earth, Jane Foster, played by Natalie Portman. Fortunately, it provides better writing for Portman to play with. She really is the MacGuffin of the film, and she works as a story device to explore more of Asgaard, one of the best set pieces in all of the Marvel films. Jane uncovers the mysterious stone, or rather liquid, that has been hidden away for centuries; this is all Lord Of The Rings stuff. Once she finds the stone and is consumed with it, then the film segues into its originality.

Apparently, it’s not good if the Aether is used for destruction while the Nine Realms are in Convergence, which we are told happens every 5,000 years. What is Convergence? Well, that’s where it’s fun to watch Thor: The Dark World. The Nine Realms line up, literally like a rainbow of circles stacking on top of one another. It’s really cool to look at. What’s more fun is how Jane and her crew drop random objects into an open space within a deserted London warehouse and then it disappears, and then drops back down to them from above their heads. Sometimes, they drop something, only the objects don’t return at all. I like all of this stuff, because it’s all visual and ultimately that is what movies are about. Showing us something. Asgaard, The Convergence, Thor’s swing of his hammer, the Aethar, it’s all fun to see. I’ll credit Alan Taylor’s direction for a lot of this. He’s shown great achievements in Game Of Thrones. He carries his visions over to Thor’s universe.

Next is the villain is Malekeith, the head of the Dark Elves, with some really wicked looking makeup, and it only gets more wicked as he progressively gets more powerful. He wants to get the Aether and bring the Nine Realms into Darkness. Christopher Eccleston (best known for G.I. Joe; that should tell you something) takes on this role which is nothing special. I don’t care so much about the villain in this film as I do about the conflict of the story. The conflict is the real treat. Eccleston is nothing special. He’s not bad. He’s not good. He’s just nothing special. Moving on…

Tom Hiddleston is back as the trickster Loki, one of the best written characters in all of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The script gives him a lot to play with and opportunities to irritate and antagonize Thor who reluctantly recruits his assistance. “Well done. You just decapitated your grandfather.” See the movie (again?) and you’ll love the timing of this line. Hiddleston has fun with the levity of Loki but there is a sad central story to the adopted son of Odin. During his first appearance in the film, following his incision of the New York alien invasion from The Avengers, Loki is arrested in chains to stand before his father, and Hiddleston clicks his heels together at attention, giving a serious grimace before declaring “I really don’t see what all the fuss is about.” Hiddleston continues to work and develop at this favorite character who remains tricky and unpredictable. I love it.

Anthony Hopkins is back as Odin, Thor’s father. Yeah, he’s doing the same thing and that’s fine. Again, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Moving on…

There’s a lot of fantastic sci fi and fantasy sequences to this film and from a CGI perspective, it’s artistically beautiful. It’s just a fun ride of exploration. Thor was never a favorite comic book character of mine growing up. The MCU opened my eyes to something special in his adventures and those that surround him. It’s even great when Thor jumps on the tube to return to a battle in Greenwich Village. I’m expecting some energetic debate on my feelings towards this film. Bring it on and I’ll match you. As Thor might say after his hammer turns a giant rock monster to rubble, “Anyone else?”

Reader, if I can quote this film three times in a review that should tell you how much I love Thor: The Dark World.


By Marc S. Sanders

Chris Hemsworth is the God of Thunder who must learn to grow up if he is to inherit the throne over the land of Asgard from his father Odin (a welcome Anthony Hopkins), and more importantly become worthy of lifting his mighty hammer. Hemsworth is great; full of cocksure assuredness, humor and heroics. Chris Hemsworth makes you believe he’s the only guy who could play Thor.

Thor’s adversary is the God of Mischief, Loki played by one of Marvel’s best actors, Tom Hiddleston. This is a guy who plays so many different levels. If one didn’t know the story of Thor and Loki, I’d argue they might be shocked at some of the turn of events Hiddleston masterfully orchestrates with simple facial expressions and passiveness that progressively switch over to madness, obsession, jealousy, envy and deceit. Hiddleston effectively spins all the plates perfectly.

Natalie Portman plays the love interest carrying the torch of least significance that Liv Tyler and Gwenyth Paltrow held in prior Marvel films. That’s a pattern the Marvel films will begin to improve upon with the next film in line.

Director Kenneth Branagh is the right guy for this movie. Inspired Shakespearean settings and dialogue overlap with modern day America. Branagh brings a nice balance to it, and he also directs his actors well. A great exchange of dialogue and performance occurs midway through between Hiddleston and Hemsworth. Branagh gets good close ups of both actors as the conniving villain manipulates the naive hero. The camera angles move at a slant almost evoking a necessary confusion between what is true and what is a lie. Moments like this allow Thor to be more than just an action film. There are nice opportunities for acting as well, and because of that Hiddleston especially has become quite treasured among loyal fans.

Compliments must also go towards the setting of Asgard. I normally frown on immersive CGI normally. Not here though. Asgard is as regal as anything Peter Jackson offered in his Tolkien films, complete with a striking rainbow bridge and towering structures. I want to tour through that whole land. It’s that spectacular. Characters also work well with the CGI, especially the fire breathing, metallic Destroyer.

Thor is a great introduction to the legendary comics character. The film offers a character arc of change much like what was captured with Tony Stark in the first Iron Man. The character must grow and learn about his identity over the course of the film in order to have legs for future installments. This film accomplishes that feat, and thus Chris Hemsworth has become a box office draw while his most popular character to date has become a screen favorite.


By Marc S. Sanders

Everyone remembers Anthony Hopkins’ memorable turn as the infamous Dr. Hannibal Lecter in The Silence Of Lambs.  He was “Hannibal The Cannibal;” a renowned and brilliant psychiatrist who was eventually captured for being the one who ate his victims with sophisticated glee.  The real attraction, though, is how director Jonathan Demme delivers the film adaptation of Thomas Harris’ best selling novel through a lens that only finds one strong heroine amid a sea of intimidating men.  The heroine is the intuitive, but petite Clarice Starling.  The men are nearly everyone else cast in the film, and I mean everyone all the way down to the extras; the extras, here, are a perfect example how necessary they are towards any film’s palette.

Ever since the film was released in 1991, the dialogue of Ted Tally’s script is worthy of repeating and mimicking in social circles.  Lecter remains spoofed in nearly every pop culture medium.  Hopkins’ character is unforgettable and he’s been ranked among the greatest film villains of all time with the likes of Darth Vader and Harry Lyme.  It’s a worthy honor.  His timing is subtle and mischievous while he remains silently dangerous.  You can’t take your eyes off the actor and you can’t erase the devilishly fun and evil character from your sub conscious.  Opposite this performance though is Jodie Foster in a top billing role as an FBI trainee named Clarice Starling, assigned to interview and maybe study Lecter as a means to a solid lead in finding a serial killer that has been identified in the media as “Buffalo Bill.”  Bill has been skinning and killing girls with large physicalities, around the east to mid-west portion of the United States.

So, there is a detective story at play here as Hannibal aids Clarice in her search for the killer, but only under his rules.  Demme paints the film with Clarice ably performing her job no matter the towering strength or perverted fantasies found in nearly any man.  An outstanding image early on shows her small frame entering an elevator.  She has been summoned to her supervisor’s office from the outdoor obstacle course.  She is sweaty, and looking tired.  The elevator is full of a dozen men in red uniform polo shirts that hug every muscle; they are strong, fit and healthy.  Clarice stands front and center and she has no reluctance to stand among this exclusive group.  Later in the film, Clarice is invited by her supervisor, Jack Crawford (Scott Glenn in a deservedly dark and quiet performance), to investigate one of Bill’s victims that turned up in the swampy waters of West Virginia.  The coroner’s examination room is filled to the max with sheriffs who believe they serve a purpose to stay there to witness what’s uncovered.  The strength of Clarice is really shown here as she shoos them away.  The men’s facial expressions tell us they don’t care for this request, but Clarice isn’t going to allow them to remain.  Most importantly are her encounters with the head of the Baltimore psychiatric ward that houses Lecter.  He is known as Dr. Chilton played by Anthony Heald.  Chilton – a great character name that clearly colors in the twisted perversion of this guy.  Chilton is happy to boast of his prized attraction, Lecter, as if he’s a rare tiger and he has no reluctance to hit on Clarice when she comes to visit with Lecter.  Always, Clarice will not allow herself to be succumbed, patronized or victimized by any of these towering figures of masculinity in what is unfairly regarded as a man’s world in law enforcement, crime or psychiatry.  Starling easily reminds Chilton that she was a student at the University of West Virginia, not a charm school.  With Tally’s script, Jodie Foster uses these deflective techniques of her character without effort.  Her methods of fencing with these men are a natural ability.  Even when she’s in film transition periods of training at the Academy, Clarice can maintain her stance against a hard-hitting male boxer pounding away at her boxing shield.  She just won’t fall over. As well, she doesn’t wince as the male students give her a glance from behind when she’s jogging on the grounds. 

Demme is an outstanding director who uses these interpretations of this woman to drive his film.  This very same year, 1991, Ridley Scott directed Thelma & Louise.  In that film, the title characters had to realize that they didn’t have to take any shit from a man.  They started out weak, though, and had no choice but to eventually get stronger.  Here, it’s already part of the woman’s instinctive nature. 

Hannibal Lecter is shown to be well versed in the finer things of art, literature, music and, forgive me, cuisine.  At one point, Demme focuses on a picture Lecter has sketched depicting Clarice in an almost angelic nature.  I’ve never forgotten that image.  Nearly all of the settings in The Silence Of The Lambs include stairways that always lead us in the down direction, to an assortment of various hells.  Clarice, the pure angel with nary a fault beyond limited experience as an FBI agent peels the onion away on her quest for a killer by entering into the treacherous depths beneath her; pits of hells.  The opening shot of the film has Clarice pulling herself up with a rope on an obstacle course as if she is ready to enter the heavens, ready to stand above everything, but then she is summoned to Crawford’s office located at the Department of Behavioral Sciences at the FBI.  She has to take an elevator down and then various stairways further down into a labyrinth of claustrophobic offices with no windows, surrounded by cinderblock and populated with men in uncharacteristic suits that don’t appear warm or cuddly.  Crawford may seem like her ally, but really, he’s using her as a sacrificial pawn on a chess board putting her in an arena with psychotically dangerous prisoners, in particular, the worst of them all, Hannibal The Cannibal. 

When Clarice goes to visit Hannibal, she is escorted by Dr. Chilton, who relishes in describing how careful he handles his prized thing, and willingly shows what this monster is truly capable of by providing an unwelcome photograph of how Lecter brutalized a female nurse.  This conversation is played upon a much more frightening descent of unlimited stairways and bars that clang loudly and are painted red and rusted, eventually leading to a stone walled dungeon for these unimaginable beings of death and perversion.  Clarice is left all alone to navigate her way down a long corridor until she reaches Lecter’s cell.

Yet, an even more frightening third descent into hell occurs in the final act as Clarice’s pursuit leads to Buffalo Bill.  Bill’s home is dark, lurid, filthy and maze like; but always seeming to go down further and further into one doorway after another and down one staircase after another, including a deep well where his latest victim is kept.  Like the other descents, Clarice uses her femineity as a tool of strength to survive.  I can claim without any hesitation that Clarice Starling is one of the greatest heroines in the history of film. 

The one man who rattles her, and weakens her, though is Hannibal Lecter.  Watch their tete a tete when they meet for the first time.  Starling demonstrates some overconfidence against Lecter’s seemingly polite demeanor.  With her white trash Virginia dialect, she even gets a little smarmy with the Doctor, but then he disarms her immediately with a comeback that shakes her very core.  Demme’s reliance on close ups for both characters serve this scene and others so well.  Clarice’s encounters with Hannibal are the most important and vital moments in the film because they are the only opportunities for Jonathan Demme and Ted Tally to show the main character’s weakness.  Every hero has to have a weakness if they are to remain compelling.  Clarice is not, in fact, undefeatable. 

The film could have simply worked as a basic detective story.  Put up the clues and the narration of the picture will eventually assemble all together for a resolution where the bad guy is captured.  Yet, Thomas Harris’ character creation uses Hannibal as a defiant obstacle blocking the path for Clarice.  Hannibal lacks much stimulation in a cold, specially designed prison cell.  He’s maybe only honored with impenetrable plexiglass to contain him as opposed to traditional bars.  He needs to be enthralled.  On the surface, Clarice appears as a frail prey that he can take his time munching on.  He’s happy to help Clarice catch Buffalo Bill with the case files she provides, but in exchange he wants to uncover what haunts her psyche.  Such a strong character Clarice is, but she has to be willing to weaken and expose herself to desperately find a dangerous killer.  Can she do it?  She’s never allowed herself to do that before.  And thus, we come to comprehend the obscure title of this film and the book it stems from.  (Anthony Hopkins actually thought it was a children’s fantasy when he was sent the script to read over.)

This write up is not necessarily a review, but a means to honor the careful film and storytelling technique that Jonathan Demme strives for with The Silence Of The Lambs.  You might say, yeah, there’s a lot of walking in this picture, but pay attention to the direction of the walking.  Always going down, somewhat reminiscent as Little Red Riding Hood entering a dark and spooky forest and encountering the biggest and baddest wolf.  Jodie Foster might be in a company of men here, but the film works as a dual of femineity vs masculinity.  It’s strange to believe that Demme actually had Michelle Pfeiffer in mind for the Starling role initially, a more than capable actress, but one who at the time was more glamourous (The Fabulous Baker Boys and The Witches Of Eastwick).  Beyond the silly Disney films, Foster was known for lurid pieces like Taxi Driver and her first Oscar winning role as a rape victim in The Accused.  Clarice Starling is a character beyond a pop culture appearance of the time, and Jodie Foster emanates that portrayal.

The writing of The Silence Of The Lambs is so intelligent.  There’s a witty, yet deliberately poor taste, of sarcasm to Hannibal Lecter as he thrives off his superior intellect over Jack Crawford and the FBI.  It’s only enhanced when he’s dealt a lowly, formally white trash female student to play with.  Ted Tally offers precise timing in the dialogue with Clarice and Hannibal.  Thomas Harris’ drive to further a cameo appearance of Lecter in a prior novel (Red Dragon) with this book is a gift to readers and eventually movie watchers.  The Silence Of The Lambs doesn’t follow formula with a Law & Order technique of ballistics and witness interviews.  It drives into other directions to feed its development. 

Jonathan Demme’s film is pioneering.  I recall seeing it in theatres with other high school friends.  I was not enthused to see it.  The title was too odd.  The picture was primarily a talking piece.  There were gross and unwelcome images within the film.  It’s very ugly at times.  I was frankly accustomed to the likes of Dirty Harry and Lethal Weapon films for my cops pursuing the robbers ideals.  I recall not even liking the film when we left, and I couldn’t comprehend its appeal that followed for the remainder of nearly an entire year, all the way up to when it was awarded the five main categories of Oscar wins (Actress, Actor, Screenplay, Director and Picture).  I definitely wasn’t accustomed to a strong character like Clarice.  Later that year, I saw Thelma & Louise and fell in love with their eventual triumph.  I needed to be spoon-fed their initial weaknesses at first.  Who was this Clarice in this picture, though?  I could not identify her strength that displayed right from the get go.  I wasn’t even 18 years old at the time and now I can say I just wasn’t mature enough for this film back in 1991.  Now, it’s thankfully clearer, though I still appreciate its subtlety so much. Jonathan Demme had such a clear vision of where he was taking this film and because it’s not dated, The Silence Of The Lambs stands as thriller, and an intelligent thought provoking piece that stays with you for a long time after each viewing.