Anthony Hopkins Month #1: The Silence of the Lambs, Nixon

The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Anthony Hopkins is perhaps best known for his creepy, iconic portrayal of the psychiatrist-turned-cannibal Dr. Hannibal Lecter. On the hunt for a serial killer, FBI trainee Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) must turn to the dark mind of Dr. Lecter for help in understanding and tracking down the mass murderer. Directed by Jonathan Demme, The Silence of the Lambs won five Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Actor in a Leading Role (Anthony Hopkins), Best Actress in a Leading Role (Jodie Foster), Best Director, and Best Writing (Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published).

In his role as Hannibal Lecter, Hopkins does the impossible: He takes a monster and humanizes him, all the while imprinting a malevolent otherworldiness to the urbane and intelligent psychiatrist and psychopath. In most modern thrillers, directors focus on cheap scares and jump shots to thrill an audience. In The Silence of the Lambs, the most fascinating, scary, and tense scenes are the ones in which we, through Clarice Starling, get to know the formidable Dr. Lecter. Through his conversations with Clarice, Dr. Lecter leverages his above-average intelligence and cunning as he psychologically manipulates the young FBI protege. Anthony Hopkins outdid himself in his portrayal of Hannibal Lecter, who is now one of the most enduring and famous villains ever to darken the silver screen.

Jodie Foster also excels as the timid yet resolute Clarice Starling. Still somewhat innocent, she is the perfect foil for the menacing and worldly Hannibal Lecter. The bizarre chemistry between the two anchors the film, and makes this one of the most deeply disturbing and powerful thrillers ever made. A must-see.

Nixon (1995)

Anthony Hopkins shines once again in his complex portrayal of the embattled former President Richard Nixon in this lengthy biopic directed by Oliver Stone. Movie fans hoping to see a thorough take-down of Nixon through Watergate might be initially disappointed, as the film focuses more on Nixon’s life than his downfall. Peppered with flashbacks to Nixon’s past, including his childhood in Southern California and his romance with his wife Pat, played by Joan Allen, the film is more of a character study than a thriller. Nixon was not a box office smash but critics loved it, and it garnered four Oscar nominations, including Best Actor in a Leading Role for Hopkins and Best Actress in a Supporting Role for Allen.

Oliver Stone does an excellent job directing, as it would be easy to simply demonize the scandalized politician as a ruthless, one-sided cardboard figure. Here is where Anthony Hopkins excels. While the casting of Hopkins was criticized because of his lack of resemblance to the President, it does not matter. Hopkins is such a good actor that it doesn’t matter how much he physically resembles Richard Nixon – he embodies him. Hopkins nails down Nixon’s mannerisms, speech, and perpetual paranoia.

The casting of Hopkins as Nixon was not the only controversy of the film. The decision to portray a propensity towards alcoholism and prescription drug abuse (for both Nixon and his wife) garnered Oliver Stone much criticism. However, in showing Nixon’s possible vulnerabilities, Stone does nothing more than humanize a flawed figure with a tarnished legacy. That, along with the great acting of Anthony Hopkins, makes Nixon a film that is well worth watching.

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