Nostalgia is a funny thing. When I saw that this had been given the prestigious Criterion treatment, I immediately was transported back to when I saw this one night on TV many years ago and remember really liking it. Sitting down now with much more jaded eyes, it transpires it’s not quite the classic I thought it was, even though there’s still fun to be had. Jeff Daniels (Dumb and Dumber) plays Charles, a straight laced office worker who one day has a chance encounter with free-spirited Lulu (Melanie Griffith) who takes Charles on a road trip straight out of his comfort zone that awakens a side to him he never knew he had. Everything is going great until they bump into Lulu’s jail bird husband (Ray Liotta) who seems hell-bent on winning Lulu back.
Its a good concept and one I quickly felt engaged by, but once the ‘wild’ element of Lulu’s nature falls away and reveals who she really is, the movie stops dead, with a very awkward ‘lets go visit my mom’ scene and a drawn out high school reunion sequence. Thankfully once Liotta turns up the movie is cranked up several levels and transforms into more of a thriller. Liotta is brilliant, channelling that dangerous-charm he later honed to perfection in Goodfellas. Also Daniel’s proves much more than simply an every man for the audience to latch onto. Griffiths is also highly watchable and further proves why she was the go-to actress of the 80’s and has presence and personality to spare. The movie never really hits it’s stride though, suffering from a bit of an identity crisis and is neither funny enough to be a comedy, exciting enough to be a thriller or charming enough to be a love story. Like a lot of the other also-ran movies of the 80’s this one’s a bit of an oddity, but certainly retains a quirky appeal.
This UK Criterion release is rather underwhelming. The image quality, whilst showing off some vibrancy to it’s colour palette is marred by a lot of smudgy shots. There’s generally a soft look and lack of detail to the whole presentation. The 2 channel DTS HD soundtrack doesn’t exactly wow either, but dialogue is sharp even if music cues seem to lack punch. Extras consist of a detailed booklet that includes an essay by film critic David Thompson. On the Blu-ray itself there’s an archive interview with director Jonathan Demme and the screenwriter, and we also get a trailer. Not exactly the exhaustive treatment one might expect from Criterion.
Always nice to revisit a classic, especially on Blu-ray. I have long loved this Oscar-winning thriller, that for me is still the finest serial killer movie ever made (with Seven being a close second). Sitting down to this last night it wasn’t hard to see why it gained such acclaim. The performances are perfect, with a vulnerable but tough Jodie Foster, near unrecognizable in a black hair dye-job (or wig?). Mentored by Scott Glen’s equally well cast Jack Crawford. Yet the big selling point for me, and what has gone on to define a career is Anthony Hopkins’ amazingly creepy but charismatic turn as Dr Hannibal Lecter – one of the greatest creations in movie villain history.
Foster plays FBI agent Clarice Starling, given the task of interviewing imprisoned serial killer and former psychiatrist Hannibal Lecter as the FBI attempt to track down currently at large killer Buffalo Bill. This is a movie that is just as much character study as it is a thriller, with exceptional performances across the board (with a very unnerving Ted Levine as Bill – ‘it puts the lotion in the basket’), and very well observed and realistic direction from Jonathan Demme. Silence of the Lambs has become the blue-print for all serial killer movies from Seven, to Copycat and even has echoes in current TV series The Following, that for me it just can’t be faulted. Yes over the years it has been satirized which I think is a shame, because on its original release this hit viewers hard, and in my opinion still should.
The Blu-ray isn’t quite as impressive. The picture, whilst acceptable and with moments of good detail, seems overly soft. The sound in 5.1 DTS Master Audio is decent and punchy however with good crisp dialogue, which is very important in this particular movie. Extras are mostly carry-overs from the previous DVD editions, but remain extensive with several documentaries and featurettes, trailers, deleted scenes and outtakes. The only exclusive to this HD release is a feature-length bonus called ‘breaking the silence’ that has the movie playing as interviews with the cast and film makers pop up as well as interesting bits of trivia. An audio commentary would have been nice but is sadly absent.
Director Jonathan Demme returns to the directing chair after a brief hiatus since his last film The Manchurian Candidate in 2004. Although not overly familiar with his work, I must admit that his adaptation of The Silence of the Lambs is in my opinion one of the finest serial killer thrillers ever made. This time we’re on smaller turf with this very raw portrait of a young woman, Kym (Anne Hathaway) returning to the family home on the eve of her sister’s wedding, having just come out of rehab. Hathaway breaks free from the squeaky clean image she played so well in films like The Princess Diaries & The Devil Wears Prada, and is immediately intriguing as someone with more than a few problems. Faced with the prospect of seeing her family again and how her past actions may have altered their perception of her, Kym struggles to ‘play along’ with the occasion despite everything.
This gritty film feels like we’re eves dropping on a family occasion with its fly-on-the-wall approach and jump-cut camera work reminiscent of Mike Leigh. Demme is obviously going for the less Hollywood-ised approach here, and it works well, pulling you into events whilst never loosing the realism. Hathaway is wonderful, well supported by a good cast, all of which you completely believe, especially Rosemary Dewitt as Rachel, and a near-unrecognisable Debra Winger.
Although the film does explore some of the darker aspects of Kym’s life and her actions in the past, I felt it was played a bit safe at times, seeming to only really come alive late on in the film, and the focus on the rather unconventional wedding arrangements came across heavy handed and annoying, when I would have preferred to discover more about this troubled character. Still, this is well acted and absorbing, with a career best so far from Anne Hathaway that marks her out as an actress to watch.
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