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Silence of the Lambs is a terrifying, grisly thriller

SILENCE OF THE LAMBS

Directed by Jonathan Demme.

Based on the novel by Thomas Harris.

Starring Jodie Foster, Anthony

Hopkins and Scott Glenn.

Now playing at Loews Charles.

By MICHELLE P. PERRY

SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, based on the Thomas Harris novel, is the most nerve-wracking movie of the year.

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Jodie Foster plays Clarice Starling, an FBI trainee who is recruited by her mentor, FBI agent Jack Crawford (Scott Glenn), to help track down a serial killer. Clarice's first assignment is to interview Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins), a murderous psychiatrist currently under maximum security in a forensic hospital ("He's our prized asset, from a research point of view," says the doctor in charge of Hannibal's care).

The movie is less about the search for the killer than the interaction between Clarice and Hannibal. Beneath Hannibal's carefully chosen words lie the clues Clarice needs to find the killer. However, he demands a price for their conversations -- for every piece of information he reveals, she must tell him an anecdote about her past, quid pro quo.

Clarice is heroically human. She is given a past which infects her present, and weaknesses to compliment her strengths. No one could have been a better choice for the role than Jodie Foster. Foster firmly

reassured us that her own past as a child actor would not hinder her acting future when she deservedly won an Academy Award for her role in The Accused. She seems to be building on everything she learned from The Accused: her performance is intelligent, precise and thoroughly moving. Clarice is a character to empathize with.

Dangerous, gruesome, horrifying, ingenious, cultured, twisted -- the list of adjectives which describe Hannibal go

on and on, but nothing can adequately recreate the experience of watching Hopkins bring his character to life. Perhaps it's his lovely British accent and refined manners contrasted with his power to manipulate and destroy people; perhaps it's the evil that emanates from his soft blue eyes (no joke -- look at the photos). Somehow, these characteristics combine to make Hannibal appealing, yet utterly horrifying.

Scott Glenn and Anthony Heald give fine supporting performances. Keep an eye out for singer Chris Isaak as a SWAT commander.

Director Jonathan Demme's other credits include Melvin and Howard, Something Wild, Married to the Mob and the Talking Heads concert film Stop Making Sense. Something Wild is the best example of a previous film in which he dealt with an insanely homicidal character, but his past work only hints at the intensity he has achieved in Lambs.

Lambs is based on Thomas Harris' novel of the same name. His previous two novels, Black Sunday and Red Dragon, were also made into films (Red Dragon was retitled Manhunter). Lambs is in one sense a sequel to Manhunter: Lecter's character appears in both, though his role in Manhunter is relatively minor. However, Lambs sets itself apart by being a much more faithful adaption of Harris' story.

The climax of each book relies on the "blindness" of one of the characters. This is obviously difficult to interpret visually, and the ending of Manhunter is altered to simplify things for the filmmakers. Unfortunately, this watered-down version eliminated a truly unexpected plot twist.

Demme is clever enough to keep the ending of Lambs as Harris wrote it. Demme and scriptwriter Ted Tally also deserve praise for retaining Harris' gruesome sense of humor, as well as some absolutely grotesque (though not necessarily gory) moments in the book.

Silence of the Lambs is not an easy film to see. It's not the usual slice-and-dice masquerading as a psychological thriller. This one does do something to your mind. Leaving the theater does not mean leaving the film behind -- it lingers in the back of your mind and in the pit of your stomach. Enjoy!