Sunday, December 13, 2015

1991: Jodie Foster for The Silence of the Lambs

In this Best Picture Winner, the third and most recent winner of all five major Academy Awards (picture, director, actor, actress, and screenplay), Jodie Foster plays an FBI agent in training sent to interview a notorious incarcerated serial killer in order to gain insight into an at-large serial killer's motives.

As I said when I blogged about it before, this movie terrifies me, but it's also really good. Since I'd watched it before, I was a little less caught up in the suspense this time, so I was able to better appreciate just how well made it is. But it was still difficult to focus solely on Jodie Foster's performance. Anthony Hopkins, though he has relatively little screen time, completely steals the entire movie. He's what people remember about this film. Even people who haven't watched it know the name Hannibal Lecter; not nearly as many remember Foster's character's name (it's Clarice Starling). I think it's difficult to recognize hers as a great performance because it's not the great performance of the movie, so it's a little surprising that she won the Oscar. But surprising in a good way.

In both this and Foster's other Oscar-winning film, The Accused, her character is in an almost constant state of emotional turmoil. But while in the other film she is very expressive with her emotions, in this one her character is desperately trying to conceal them. She doesn't want Hannibal Lecter to know that he's getting to her, and she also doesn't want to appear weak in front of other FBI agents. But given the horrors she witnesses and the mind games she's subjected to, she would seem positively inhuman if she wasn't disturbed by it all, and the audience desperately needs someone to relate to and sympathize with. She plays this so well that I didn't really notice it during my first viewing. I knew I liked her character, but I didn't realize how emotionally charged the performance was, how quickly she goes from overly confident to falsely confident to barely holding it together. I find this movie exhausting to watch because it's so suspenseful and creepy, but what I hadn't noticed before is that Clarice is right there freaking out with us the whole time. However, while we in the audience can freak out however much we want, she has to at least attempt to appear unaffected. I can only imagine how draining that must have been to portray. So while Foster doesn't define this movie the way Hopkins does, she certainly earned her Oscar just as much as he earned his, if not more so, just in a somewhat less noticeable way.

Since this win, Jodie Foster has only been nominated for one more Oscar, for 1994's Nell. She hasn't been in too many movies lately, but regardless, she will always be noteworthy as one of the few child stars who were able to maintain successful film careers as adults, and as the winner of two very deserved Oscars.

Coming up next: Emma Thompson

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