Jodie Foster, Silence of the Lambs
Friday, January 13, 2006
Saturday, April 09, 2005
"The Silence of the Lambs ... is paced at the speed of ambition--the desire of its heroine, Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster), a young FBI trainee, to catch a psychotic serial killer and rid herself of private obsessions. If ever there was a movie that felt like the tightening winch of adrenaline, this is it. Yet Demme achieves this emotional velocity without any of the stale, artificial emphasis of routine thrillers. He puts us inside Clarice's detemination from the opening shots, and he continues to dramatize her feelings from scene to scene, moment to moment, right to the end. A country-smart, respectful West Virginia young woman, Clarice is strong as a horse but also artless and vulnerable. She is a heroine, and Jodie Foster playes her heroically....
Clarice is the daughter of a state trooper who was killed when she was ten. Orphaned (her mother had died earlier), she has made her way through tough times and into the University of Virginia and then the FBI. She has her private demons as well as overwhelming ambition. All of this information is carefully woven in, given to us a little at a time. Foster is not the type to show us everything all at once. Her acting is a disciplined mixture of reserve and revelation. Short yet with straight-line, almost aristocratic features, she is both ordinary and elegant. The precise line of her features brings order to the spriritual tumult of lonely, embattled young women.
I thought she was terrific in The Accused as the tough-talking, defiant working-class girl who like to drink and show off and got into serious trouble in a bar one night. She stayed within the character and eventually revealed all of that girl's weakness and pigheaded nerve. Clarice is a much smarter and sturdier person, but she goes one step at a time, persistent, molelike, and Foster never allows any extra or false awareness to spill into the characterization. She remains deferential and self-contained--a natural FBI type--and makes us see the dignity in that kind of temperament. The West Virginia, up-from-white-trash accent is brought off with perfect confidence. Held in close-up in scene after scene, she anchors our responses to the movie, but she doesn't ask for special sympathy. A proud actress.
Clarice, longing for approval, has two substitute daddies...."
New York, February 18, 1991
[LO a little on character:]
. . . . What enables [Demme] to get his bearings in this unfamiliar territory is the richness of the central character, who--like most of the people in his other films--is someone who's changing, learning, trying to formulate an identity. He keeps our attention on Starling and her shifting reactions to the world, and his most striking achievement in this picture is his direction of Jodie Foster. Her clear, strong features--which have sometimes given her, in other roles, a slightly impenetrable look--have never seemed so expressive. Demme treats her to one closeup after another, and she rewards him with a steady flow of surprises. With amazing delicacy, Foster shows us the constant tension between the character's emotions and her actions--the omnipresent self-consciousness of inexperiences. When, at the movie's climax, Starling has to use all the moves she's been rehearsing in her classes, Foster gives every gesture a hint of tentativeness, and that subtle hesitancy makes the student's courage incredibly touching. We may not know quite how to feel about the fears and insecuritites and nightmare images that "The Silence of the lambs" makes us vulnerable to, but we know exactly how to feel about Jodie Foster's performance: the only adequate response is "Thank you."
New Yorker, February 25, 1991
"Foster's fiercely committed performance matches [Hopkins] step by step. From our first sight of her running through the woods at the FBI training camp, she's a woman in constant motion--a striver grimly driven to escape her own childhood nightmares. Foster has to play her part in a perpetual state of controlled anxiety. Like the movie, she wastes no motion, giving us quick, sharp glimpses into Clarice's defensive, determined heart. It's the strongest woman's action role, since Siguorney Weaver in "Aliens." . . . .
Anthony Hopkins plays [Lecter] perfectly. . . . Most of the other performances [right word? I've abbreviated on my copy] are adequate. Exception: Anthony Heald . . . .
Another exception: Jodie Foster as the trainee. I have to enter a dissent about her work in general. She got rave reviews, and an Oscar, for her performance in The Accused, but it seemed to me relatively facile, broad acting, in which a woman was not created as much as collected from off-the-shelf choices--accessible to dozens of modestly talented people. Foster was luckier to get the part than she was subtle or original in playing it.
Here again, in Lambs, the role itself does the acting for her, so to speak. Her spare, peck-mouthed face is not a highly expressive actor's mask. Her acting choices, from moment to moment, always seem to come from an available stock. I kept thinking of what Rebecca de Mornay could have done to freshen the role--[get review--does he say "I"] thought of de Mornay because in 1988 she played an FBI trainee in a piece of tripe called Feds. (Careers and Oscars and all that are sometimes as much a matter of luck as talent.) De Mornay has the almost scary power of concentration that a good actor must begin with; Foster seems to have not much more than industrious application. She fills in the spaces allotted to her by the script, but she never provides more than the expected.
New Republic, February 18, 1991
from review of Contact (1997):
"....Hang on, guys. You have a whole planet to choose from, and you choose Jodie Foster? I am a major Foster fan, but one thing is perfectly clear: Ellie does not need a long trip into space.... Jodie Foster is doing her trademark shudder, complete with staring eyes and lips pressed not a line. It's a look that we have watched before, as Hannibal Lecter quizzed her softly through the bars of his cage, but there the neurosis rang true and sharp, and we were moved by Clarice's determination to ride her sorrows and finish the job. Ellie, by contrast, never seems like a pro at all...."
The New Yorker, July 21, 1997
Nobody's Perfect, p. 196
originally posted 11/4/05. Until I become a major Lane fan, I am not including in the above: "...Ellie needs to get (1) a square meal insider her, (2) some rest, and (3) laid...."