You've heard of this film, it's been so parodied and referenced over the years since it's release that it's become firmly embedded in the public consciousness. The reason for this? It's absolutely fantastic. It's one of the few films I haven't a bad word to say about, it's pretty damn near perfect.
The story follows a young FBI trainee Clarice Starling (Foster) who's sent to interview an imprisoned serial killer, the now world-famous Hannibal Lecter (Hopkins). The interview coincides with the continuing activity of another very different killer, Buffalo Bill, and of course the two plot lines quickly become one as Lecter offers to use his undoubted psychological genius to aid the police in exchange for improving his circumstances of imprisonment.
Hopkins as Lecter is only on screen for about twenty minutes totaled up and yet he gives such a stunning performance that his presence is felt throughout the film. He is at once charismatic, dangerous, electrifying, creepy, hypnotic, menacing and deeply disturbing. The first time he stares into the camera you feel like he's staring into your very soul, and for Starling he is. He's behind glass and yet Hopkins manages to instill such a sense of danger to him that he seems infinitely more terrifying than Buffalo Bill - where Bill is deranged, confused and emotionally volatile, Lecter is cold, intelligent, darkly empathetic, and completely detached from that most basic drive that prevents us killing. That Lecter clearly has his own strict moral code based on manners and politeness makes him even more frightening.
Foster as Starling delivers a career best performance, perfectly realizing the character as both strong but vulnerable, sensitive but determined, by no means the 2D female lead the film would have produced in almost any other actress. We feel for Starling, we want her to succeed, we feel afraid for her as she becomes dangerously close to Lecter. Foster really has to drive this film, Hopkins makes us afraid but Foster has to make us care, which she achieves easily. Her performance is often overlooked in this film because of Hopkins, but they both won Oscars for their roles and both were well deserved, two of the greatest performances on film to date.
The directing by Jonathan Demme is superb, forcing his audience into every scene by keeping face-on to the dialog and way too close to the action for comfort so we feel like we're there without the need for shaky-hand-held-documentary-style work that works well in some films (e.g. the Bourne Franchise) but would have ruined this. This film is not rugged, it's precise. It's not about random violence, it's about calculated horror.
In conclusion this is an incredible film with stunning performances, intense atmosphere, perfectly calculated directing, and one of the best constructed and driven plots in cinema history. Buy it now, it doesn't matter which edition, just get your hands on this film and prepare to be blown away. Good? It's Perfect.