The Essentials: Rachel Getting Married (2008)

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“I am Shiva the destroyer, your harbinger of doom this evening.” – Kym (Anne Hathaway)

Every year, there are a couple of art house movies that audiences do not quite know what to make of. In 2008, one of the poorer years for cinema in recent memory, Jonathan Demme’s Rachel Getting Married was praised to the rafters by some critics, yet audiences shrugged it off. I will include myself in the group who did not respond to it. However, after several years of studying film and refining my tastes, I revisited Demme’s drama over the weekend. After another watch, I can conclude that I do not think the director has made a finer narrative film.

It is very helpful to know that director Robert Altman – a man who I will eventually get around to exploring on The Essentials one of these days – was the primary influence on the film, released a couple of years after his death. Altman was a pro at shining a light on small, personal stories amidst large spaces. Rachel Getting Married, on the one hand, is a psychological drama, about a recovering drug addict, Kym (Anne Hathaway in an Oscar-nominated performance), returning home to attend her older sister’s wedding. On the other hand, the film is about a wedding and spends a lot of time watching characters preparing, toasting, cleaning, practicing music, exchanging vows and dancing. Also, everyone speaks too quickly to the point that the dialogue often overlaps – a very Altman-esque touch.

The film is both an intimate story of an addict’s troubled past returning to greet her at a family function, as well as a lavish, languid wedding video of sorts. These two elements – the interior drama and the exterior festivities – would normally be at odds with each other. However, under Demme’s eye, guided by the outstanding script from Jenny Lumet (daughter of Sidney), the oddness meshes with the extravagance very well. A wedding is where personal and familial problems come to a head, and this one is no different.

The drama is filmed in two ways: scenes with Kym, in group therapy, where she reveals the dark way she turned her family against her, is like a filmed diary. The camera hardly leaves Hathaway’s side as she exposes the demons within her. In the moments with the wedding shenanigans, though, Kym is almost rarely seen. Cinematographer Declan Quinn positions the camera in a way during the rehearsal dinner scene that blocks Rachel’s head from our view and nobody else’s. This section is like a wedding video: full of joy and ignoring anything that can suffocate the happy tone (i.e., Kym).

Kym feels like a small person in a big house, like David Byrne trapped in an oversized suit or Clarice Starling walking through Buffalo Bill’s dungeon. She has an unfiltered mouth, her hair is shoulder-length but not all of it is level. When she gets up to toast her sister, Kym stumbles through it and makes the speech all about this being her chance to apologize and atone for her wrongdoing. As kind as the gesture is, Kym hogs the microphone and turns the speech into one more about her – the self-referred “harbinger of doom” – than the bride-to-be. It is both emotionally powerful and cringeworthy, two adjectives that should not go together but manage to.

Hathaway gives a sharp and somber performance as a woman without an ounce of grace trying not to implode at her sister’s wedding. Hathaway’s jagged stance, her grouchy and expressive face, her sardonic tone of voice creates a character that is as memorable as she is mysterious. As Kym wanders through the house like a character in an Ibsen play, we are at her side, noticing where things are set up, how people are acting toward each other. When Kym reveals to us the moment that sent her spiraling out – hopped up on Percocet, she drove the family’s car off a bridge and killed her younger brother, Ethan – Hathaway is bare and lucid.

Kym wants to be the maid of honour, but she is not made of any honour in her family’s eyes. That family is full of exceptional character actors giving superb turns: Rosemarie DeWitt as Rachel, the model sister trying to re-examine her relationship with Kym on the most packed weekend of her life; Bill Irwin as Paul, trying to be twice as jovial as everyone else as a way to protect his girls and silence the past; Debra Winger as Abby, Paul’s ex-wife and the girls’ mother, a flustered and distant lady who has not forgiven Kym.

One creative touch of Demme’s, a man who is no stranger to music-infested movies, is how the only music heard throughout Rachel Getting Married comes from the band, even when they are rehearsing a few rooms away. The fact that the music sounds unfinished works in bringing the viewer to this space of waiting and preparation. One terrific choice of Lumet, the screenwriter, is that Rachel’s husband, Sidney (played by TV on the Radio frontman Tunde Adebimpe) is African-American. Paul’s second wife, Carol (Anna Deavere Smith), is also African-American. The racial barriers are gone, as it should be at a wedding. Fittingly, a few weeks after Rachel Getting Married came out, Americans elected Barack Obama as their president.

Rachel Getting Married is an absorbing film, both intimate and extravagant. Few films in recent memory have created such vivid characters and made them confront the scars of their pasts without forcing the characters into contrived drama. The wedding at the end is a long denouement to the story, but it also feels long-winded for a reason, to insert some celebration into the cynicism. There is pain and joy, depression and celebration. And not a note of this very bi-polar drama feels false.

Review Monday: 4/21/14 (The Raid 2, Noah)

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When The Raid, a teasingly simple and sturdy martial-arts-infested thriller of wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am, how-did-they-film-that fight sequences hit North American screens in 2012, a gloriously bloody foreign cult sensation was born. For those unopposed to brutal, bone-crunching violence, it was a gift from the action movie gods. The only major complaint many leveled against the thriller, almost entirely set within a slum tenement, was its lack of story. Critics berated Gareth Evans’ film for being all punch, no plot. Well, us critics should not have held our breath, as its follow-up, The Raid 2 (C+), is too much plot, not enough punch.

Beginning mere hours after the takedown of Tama and his thugs in the Jakarta ghetto high-rise, rookie cop Rama (a magnetic Iko Uwais) gets his next assignment. Asked to join a task force to weed out crooked cops with connections to the monopolistic Bangun family, Rama agrees, although hesitantly. He still has a baby on the way at home. However, corruption is rampant and his brother, Andi (Donny Alamsyah), is murdered in cold blood, so the job calls.

Infiltrating a notorious prison, Rama befriends Uco Bangun (Arifin Putra), the malevolent son who is next in line to his magnate father’s throne. One grueling, mud-flinging fight later, the two are pals. Upon release two years later, Rama becomes a trusted ally of the Bangun family. However, there is still some animosity between father and son. Uco craves power and has no problem abusing women or murdering small obstacles to get his way of his pop’s throne, including the henchmen from various warring factions around the city.

There is a lot of political power-playing within The Raid 2, which clocks in at a bloated two-and-a-half hours. The meandering drama makes one pine for the simplicity of the first film, which accelerated due to its high-octane action. Nevertheless, Welsh director Evans is one of the finest audiovisual stylists in action cinema today, an expert at crafting preludes to big fights.

The slow-moving lingering camera (from DPs Matt Flannery and Dimas Imam Subhono) creeps above and around walls to show the viewer the scope of the setting for the impending fight. A rumbling score of increasing speed builds suspense. Zoom-ins on the intense glares of the fighters build up to a breaking point, where the camera and soundtrack go loose. On the down side, smoking out the spark from these frenetic moments is the inert, generic plotting. The Raid 2 is like a more needlessly convoluted version of The Departed, which was already a convoluted re-telling of a straightforward crime thriller (Infernal Affairs).

“Pulling a trigger is like ordering takeout,” one of the villain’s from the first Raid said. Keeping with his need for a meatier meal, much of the fighting from this film comes from more creative sources: a pair of hammers, a baseball and bat, various kitchen utensils and equipment. And, that is just from the closing fights, which are wildly inventive. (I doubt you will find a film’s end credits feature the names of several massage therapists and over a dozen members of a medical team anytime soon.)

The action sequences are full-throttled finesse; however, without the restricted setting of its predecessor, which created more coherence and momentum, The Raid 2 is not as exciting. When Evans has to film sprawling fights with dozens of fighters across bigger settings, such as a multi-storey nightclub, the camera whips around so much that it is needlessly dizzying and hard to keep track of the intricacies of the fight choreography. With the first Raid, less space offered more clarity. As usual, less is more – an adage that people directing sequels tend to forget.

The Raid 2 has two action sequences of unheralded power and beauty, though. One is a rocketing and inventive car chase through the Jakarta streets. The second is a butchering in a restaurant kitchen that is filled with so many whacks and slices that you begin to grumble how either of the two men fighting could still be standing through such bodily carnage.

Approximately one-third of the 150 minute film is jaw-dropping, virtuoso fight choreography. The rest of it, however is, plodding political plotting, an overwrought drama that serves as filler between the good parts. We patiently wait for these stylishly rendered bloodbaths and wonder why the same lightning fast hands could not have been in the editing room, snipping the repetitive discussions about loyalty and betrayal, from characters who are not very distinctive.

The first film worked due to its simplicity – take down a tower filled with armed and dangerous goons – but The Raid 2 is frustratingly padded. You will witness some of the most superlative-inducing action sequences since, well, Evans’ predecessor – but you are going to have to grumble through more than an hour of inept story and lazy characterization to get there.

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The surprising box-office haul of Darren Aronofsky’s psychosexual thriller Black Swan gave the director the freedom of a massive $125 million budget to tell the story of Noah (B). Big-budget films from art-house auteurs usually come with a bit of imbalance, although Aronofsky’s vision is daring enough that merging Old Testament tragedy and modern state-of-the-art effects is not as muddled as one may imagine.

Aronofsky and co-writer Ari Handel introduce the first chapters of Genesis in splices – a slithering snake, a hand grabbing the apple in the Garden, Cain beaten up Abel – to arrive at a moment when the wicked inhabitants of Cain’s cities run the world with wicked hands. Meanwhile, the few souls of the more peaceful villages of Seth still spreading righteousness include Noah (Russell Crowe, back to weighty leading man roles) and his wife, Naameh (Jennifer Connelly, not back to Oscar-winning form). Noah walks alongside God (called “The Creator”) and in his sleep, sees a prophetic vision of a drowned world. That is a sign to the woeful father that God is about to lay His world to ruin and cleanse it with a flood before starting again.

Of course, anyone familiar with the story knows what comes next: Noah builds the ark, the animals arrive in pairs, the world floods for 40 days and nights. You likely were not taught of the Watchers, giant stone creatures who look like a mix between Ray Harryhausen’s Argonauts and Michael Bay’s Transformers, in Sunday school. (They help Noah and his family build the giant vessel.) Nor do you likely know about Tubal-cain (Ray Winstone), the leader of Cain’s domain who wants Noah to allow his city’s inhabitants on the ark. Winstone almost steals the film as the surrogate for a society trying to find God, as Tubal-cain’s doubts the Creator’s existence because he does not answer his prayers.

Meanwhile, the subplot about Noah’s son Shem (Douglas Booth) trying to romance a barren orphaned girl, Ila (Emma Watson, who has never been better) to keep the human race afloat is also not one Biblical scholars could recite from memory. However, these plot points are intriguing storyline additions more than egregious stains on one of civilization’s oldest stories. Aronofsky and Handel expand Noah to include somber meditations on faith and family, and in what order they should come. ‘

During the film’s second half, as Noah wrestles with his humanity on the ark, he receives a test from the Creator, where he must decide whether to act rationally or out of blind faith. Despite the story’s new touches, Noah is hardly sacrilegious. Dark and daring, Noah works better as a personal, poignant journey of people grappling with their beliefs than as a effects-driven epic.

Aronofsky’s modern interpretation of the story, filled with subtext to discuss the material and environmental woes of a wasteful planet, makes it feel like a more significant blockbuster-level film than any in quite some time. Even through its missteps – a few middling performances, some choppy effects-laden action sequences and costume design so modern it distracts from the somber tone – Noah is a captivating drama filled with explorations of faith even more potent as the Industrial Light and Magic effects.

A Rant of Rhyme and Reason: Should David Fincher Be Out of Jobs?

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Director David Fincher and tech mogul Steve Jobs have a lot in common. In a business filled with creative control-freak geniuses, both are known for giving their projects an extra layer of perfectionism. Both men are intricate and precise visual designers, with an affinity for computer technology: Fincher burst onto the scene while working at Industrial Light & Magic and frequently uses the latest in digital cameras and editing systems for his films, while Jobs… well, you know. Both are iconoclasts of their field who still earned massive praise after moving into more stereotypically “mainstream” success.

So, to hear that David Fincher was on board to direct a biopic about Steve Jobs was thrilling, especially since Fincher won a BAFTA, a Golden Globe and unanimous acclaim for another film about a fierce, fussy computer genius, The Social Network. However, the ex-Apple CEO project is falling further from Fincher’s tree, as the director is reported to want a massive $10 million payday to direct the film. Sony, the studio behind the Jobs biopic, which is also penned by Oscar-winning Social Network scribe Aaron Sorkin, turned Fincher’s request down and is currently searching for a replacement.

$10 million is certainly nothing to sneeze at, as it is a number that today’s most prestigious filmmakers (Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg), net for larger projects. However, many of directors that earn these big grosses are also on board as producers, which likely guarantees a bigger sum. Fincher has only produced a couple of films (including his upcoming adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, out this October), but he had no producing credit on the Steve Jobs film. So, was the request to turn down such a hefty up-front fee a smart move on Sony’s part?

On one hand, Fincher does not boast the same name notoriety as other directors. He also has a mixed track record at the box office. While Se7en and The Social Network were big hits with medium-sized budgets, Zodiac, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Fight Club did not bring in massive gains at the box office. He is also notorious for doing an obscene number of takes, which means the shooting schedule for Fincher’s films are usually twice as long as productions of a similar size. This can be an expensive hassle for the studio.

But $10 million for a hit-and-miss director, box-office wise, who is directing a biopic on a man whose life has already been adapted into a big-screen drama? “It’s not screaming commerciality,” says a source with ties to Sony. ‘[Fincher] should be rewarded in success but not up front.”

On the other hand, Fincher is one of the industry’s few creative titans who has fought very hard to get things his way, ever since a disastrous experience while making Alien 3, his debut film from 1992. The director told The Guardian, “A lot of people hated Alien 3. But no one hated it more than I did.” He also revealed that this formative film could have turned him off directing forever.

In addition, the road to his stature today was paved with a few more bumps. For instance, studio executives at New Line wanted Fincher to alter Se7en’s bleak ending, but the director and frequent collaborator Brad Pitt would not back down. The film brought in over $300 million worldwide, a remarkable total for a dark, moody, R-rated thriller that would translate to around half a billion in receipts in today’s dollars.

Similarly, Fox studio executives who were unhappy with the final cut of Fight Club tried to market it during wrestling broadcasts – a move that backfired on the film’s artier, more psychologically based pretensions. The film only drew a large following when it hit DVD shelves. (It is also no wonder that Fincher is so attracted to stories about obsessive, hard-working men failing to seize control, like Fight Club’s Narrator, Zodiac’s Robert Graysmith and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’s Mikael Blomkvist.)

Also, reportedly featured in the director’s proposal to Sony is much control over the biopic’s marketing strategy. The last time Fincher and Sony teamed up to advertise one of his dramas, the studio honoured his request to release raw, excessively dreary posters for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, featuring the tagline, “The feel-bad movie of Christmas.” While honest, it probably didn’t look good when the film did relatively tame box office for a runaway best-seller and failed to score a Best Picture nomination.

Even if the director’s name does not guarantee a massive box office intake, it does lay promise for a film that the studio can be proud of. Fincher is one of the rare filmmakers making superb films that connect with adult audiences and make a bit of money too. Hollywood owes the director for screwing around with his other projects, so the up-front wages, while maybe a bit startling, would be a wise investment for any major studio. There are very few directors who will work to earn the studio back all of it by making a film that will please both audiences and Oscar voters. (His last three films, going back to The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, won seven Oscars from 26 total nominations.)

Fincher is asking the moguls that he has been fighting with for his whole career for a much-needed payback. So, should the director be criticized for asking for double-digit millions? Like the iconoclastic tech maven whose story he wanted to tell, Fincher is one of the most valued creators in the field hoping to reap big gains after a turbulent start. They both craved control and had ambitious visions, although Fincher is still regarded as an underdog. It is extremely difficult to foresee a final product under such a director (and with the exceptional Aaron Sorkin on board) that could disappoint audiences. As the director has to learn, though, you don’t get to 10 million dollars in Hollywood without making a few enemies.

Review Monday: 4/14/14 (Nymphomaniac, Draft Day, Mistaken for Strangers)

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Danish director Lars Von Trier (Antichrist, Dogville) likes to be daring and despairing, but his films do not have the depth to back up his label as one of the art-film circuit’s most important directors. As lauded for his pretensions as he is criticized for being a sensationalist and misogynist, the provocateur decided to, unsurprisingly, make a five-hour film about a female sex addict. Nymphomaniac (B-), presented theatrically in two volumes of two hours apiece that were cut down from the director’s rough cut, is as frustrating as it is frank, indulgent as it is intelligent.

Despite the subject matter, curious audiences should be warned: there is nothing sexy or erotic about this story. “Sentimentality, I hate it!” Joe cries out at one point, as if she were echoing what may as well be the director’s slogan. It is the story of Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg), who we first see lying, bruised and battered, in an alleyway. A wandering intellectual, Seligman (Stellan Skarsgård), finds Joe and brings her home, to what looks like a monk’s cell, so that she can rest. Instead of resting though, she stays up to tell Seligman her adventures of shame and sin that brought her to be sprawled and muddied in the alley.

Von Trier flashes back to Joe as a teen (newcomer Stacy Martin), where she joined a cult of cavorting girls who believed that having meaningless sex would be an appropriate rebellion against a love-fixated society. She engages in a sexual contest with a friend on a train for a bag of sweets, which includes seducing a married man. Sex to her is everything but hardly makes her feel anything. However, she develops an attraction to her boss, Jerome (an oily Shia LaBeouf). Although she bounces from bed to bed, Joe still has feelings for him that she tries to repress. Martin has a pale, porcelain face, and her inexpressiveness both helps and hinders her role: it defines Joe’s initiation into an addiction as one without feeling, although it also loses our interest by the second hour of promiscuous affairs.

At Seligman’s home, an ashen, adult Joe (as played by Gainsbourg) evokes a wider range of emotions and a more fulfilled story arc. The film’s second volume, which mainly features Gainsbourg as she struggles between faltering back to old habits and trying to make something of her life, is more powerful and compelling than the first volume. We would rather watch Joe deal with an addiction than succumb to it. Filled with envy and loneliness, Gainsbourg is transformative as an adult Joe, realizing the burden she bears and making an effort to heal herself.

Beyond Gainsbourg, Von Trier populates this sultry story with a fine collection of actors. Jamie Bell is charismatically chilly as a sadomasochist with a strict set of rules, while newcomer Mia Goth is striking, bringing insolence and intelligence to the role of a young woman Joe seduces in the second volume. Meanwhile Uma Thurman (from Volume One) nearly steals the director’s anthology as a mother of three boys whose husband abandons her to continue his illicit affair with Joe. In an uncomfortable but darkly funny scene, she crowds Joe’s apartment with her sons and scolds the addict for destroying her family unit. It is a performance of raw anguish and biting anger, and Thurman delivers in a level that only registers as over-the-top because so much else in the tale has been emotionally flimsy.

For the gains Von Trier makes in bringing the viewer to accept and pity a woman with regret for her raw exploits, he undercuts this with muddled psychoanalytic asides. Seligman attempts to explain what the events in her life mean on an intellectual level. He indulges on fishing metaphors and likes to explain how the rhythms of her sexual bliss work based on musical notation and mathematics. He serves less as a priest for her confession than as a source for film students to cite when they write a paper on Von Trier’s drama. She is all sex, and he is all text, and every time Seligman intrudes on her story to force his artistic agenda onto it, Nymphomaniac’s storytelling sags.

Meanwhile, is Joe a feminist hero or the opposite, just the object of Von Trier’s peeping, voyeuristic gaze? Seligman explains that her behaviour is revolutionary because she is a woman, choosing to navigate the limits of her desire in her own special way. However, Joe says she feels regret for much that she has done: if sex was really liberation, then why does she feel so ashamed of it? Joe is a fascinating character study who ultimately earns an audience’s sympathy. However, Von Trier is there to cut in on her story at any circumstance. It is also rather disappointing that such an audacious film about sex would end with a frustrating anti-climax. As usual for the director, Nymphomaniac is riveting, repugnant and redundant, although its flaws lie less with the filmmaking than with the storytelling.

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On a lighter note, two more of my reviews are now up on arts/entertainment websites We Got This Covered and Toronto Film Scene. The first is for the sports drama Draft Day (C), starring Kevin Costner as the Cleveland Browns’ general manager, hoping to reverse his team’s fortune. You can read that review here. The second is for the intriguing music doc Mistaken for Strangers (B), directed by Joe Berninger, the brother of The National frontman Matt Berninger, about his experiences on the road with the band. It is a truly unique rock doc. That review is here.

The Essentials: The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

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“We begin by coveting what we see every day. Don’t you feel eyes moving over your body, Clarice? And don’t your eyes seek out the things you want?” – Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins)

In the history of cinema, no horror film has left such an indelible impression on the cultural consciousness than Jonathan Demme’s Oscar-winning The Silence of the Lambs. It was one of the highest-grossing films of the year and stayed at the top of the North American box office for five straight weeks. It influenced terrific crime thrillers like David Fincher’s Se7en, Nic Pizzolatto’s True Detective on HBO and several paler imitations of stories about noble cops hunting very deranged baddies. James Patterson’s Alex Cross owes a lot to Thomas Harris’s detective Clarice Starling (played by Jodie Foster). It is demanding to think of a heroine in cinema who is as captivating and commanding as her.

However, when it comes down to the general quality of the film, The Silence of the Lambs is a rather routine thriller about an orphaned FBI trainee hoping to get onto the force by catching a vicious serial killer. Three very key elements elevate the film to its status as a classic: the outstanding performances from Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins, Ted Tally’s simple and beautifully structured screenplay, and a director who brings us a master-class in suspense.

Movie protagonists rarely come better than Clarice Starling. She is admirable in every way yet does not even want to be likable. She is a hard-working student in Quantico, Virginia, hoping to become a federal agent. Her advisor, Jack Crawford (Scott Glenn), pulls her from training to entice ex-psychiatrist and serial killer Hannibal Lecter to open up about Buffalo Bill, another deranged killer who the FBI is tracking.

The film introduces Clarice in a masterful way: she is a lone soldier, gutsy and independent, running through the woods and then tackling on an obstacle course. She is a cadet separated from the pack. When she moves into an elevator at FBI Headquarters, she is not just the only woman there but a good half-foot shorter than the next shortest person. That is not a disadvantage to Clarice, who is perceptive, hard-working and ambitious. She is a modest person with big dreams and just the amount of gumption and guts to make it work.

Oh, and she is ever Hannibal’s taste. Hopkins’ performance as the calm, calculating cannibal is just the right balance between horrifying and humane. To all of the FBI and the general population, Hannibal is a monster. To Clarice, there is a connection, chilly but tenuous, as they both learn more about each other’s past. Clarice is still haunted by nightmares that came after her FBI agent father died. Hannibal suggests, albeit briefly, that he was the victim of abuse and had a lousy childhood. (In fact, it is to the film’s detriment that we do not learn a bit more about what caused the mania behind the menace.)

Despite that detail missing, Tally’s script is magnificent and haunting, a horror film more motivated by seducing the viewer with emotion and intelligence than with fright – which only makes the scary moments more penetrating when they arrive. His character introductions are sensational: the aforementioned active underdog that is Clarice, and the skinny, smiling, scintillating Lecter as he watches the trainee approach his cell glass. Lecter has a bedeviled charm in his first scene that rubs off on the audience. We think, This man is horrifying but there is a perception and humanity underneath.

“Memory, Agent Starling, is what I have instead of a view,” he tells her, inviting us to pity him. Hopkins’ cold stare but soft voice could be creepy if not for the delicate power of his words, and the dynamic chemistry he shares with Foster. Her character will not let him sucker her mind, but Clarice has to act a bit like prey to get the predator to open up. It is a riveting tit-for-tat friendship, which is rivaled by few other duos in any cinematic genre.

As for Demme’s direction, it is perhaps more deserving of the Oscar gold that also betrothed Foster, Hopkins and Tally. Beyond a tense Howard Shore score that knows when to fade away and let the, ahem, silence do the scaring, Demme knows how to ratchet up tension. (It is disappointing that the director never tried his hand with a dark thriller again.) He focuses briefly on three details early on – the serial killer’s night-vision goggles, Clarice’s panic in the darkness of an abandoned storage building, and her failure to look behind her during a training session – as clever foreshadowing to the climax of the story.

Meanwhile, Demme shoots the thriller in a way that gains the audience Clarice’s perspective. Nearly everything she sees gets a framing from her point-of-view, so that the characters stare straight at her, aligning us with her line of sight. However, she rarely looks straight at the camera, but slightly away. This way of filming creates both an off-kilter feeling, as well as a stronger attachment to the protagonist. This buoys the suspense in a smart, yet subtle way.

If anything about The Silence of the Lambs fails to ignite, it is the serial killer himself, a transsexual named Jame Gumb. Although I do not entirely agree with the argument that it is a negative portrayal of transgender people as malicious and disturbed, the film does few favors by giving Jame (played by Ted Levine) a very vague characterization. Tak Fujimoto’s camera does a dizzying tracking shot trip through her hallways, warping into a room of wigs and costumes as a victim’s shrieks echo through. The image of Jamb as a “peeping Tom” as her night-vision goggles lingers on a helpless Clarice further helps the argument of those who attest that Demme’s film is a negative depiction of an LGBT character.

Regardless of a few flaws, The Silence of the Lambs is an absorbing, intense thriller, anchored by exceptional performances, screenwriting and direction. Demme films the story as a nightmare with heart, a fascinating relationship between a rookie cop and a criminal mastermind that descends into a mesmerizing, macabre manhunt. The film formula that is easy to replicate but difficult to master. Fans of the crime thriller have worked hard to craft characters as memorable or suspense as chilling ever since.