So far, only two other films besides this one have the distinction of winning all five of the major categories at the Oscars (picture, director, actor, actress, and screenplay). This also has a reputation for being one of the all time best thrillers in general.
And all that claim and praise is quite justified, Based on the best selling novel by Thomas Harris, this is the story of Clarice Starling, a young and talented FBI trainee who, despite her lack of experience, is deemed talented enough to help the bureau out with an investigation concerning a killer nicknamed Buffalo Bill who has a penchant for kidnapping and killing women, then skinning their bodies. Starling is tasked with interviewing the brilliant psychologist Dr. Hannibal Lecter who also happens to be a psychopath serving a life sentence due to various acts of murder and cannibalism. It is believed that he could give valuable insight into the FBI's investigation, and would be willing to cooperate with Starling given that she's an attractive yet tough female that he could find intriguing and trustworthy.
Lecter is indeed enthralled with Starling, and is willing to help, but his services come with a price In exchange for case related help and information, Starling has to provide Lecter with her own life, and let him get in her head and poke around, something that just might be more dangerous than going after Buffalo Bill.
While there are some grisly visceral thrills here, this is primarily an intense and complex character study of multiple people that are all quite fascinating. This is quite deep, intelligent, and engrossing stuff, and despite having less than twenty minutes of screen time, Anthony Hopkins cemented himself into cinematic and pop culture with his supremely chilling and memorable turn as Lecter. In fact, it was because of this movie that the Academy now makes it mandatory that a performer has to have more than twenty minutes of screen time to be considered a lead role.
He absolutely knocks it out of the park, and, despite how little screen time he has, he makes his presence felt throughout the whole film, which is a truly impressive feat. Foster gives one of her absolute best performances, and she truly shines as the multifaceted Starling. She easily sells the various layers of the character, and holds her own against not one, but two of the creepiest screen antagonists ever. Ted Levine, playing Buffalo Bill, is a real force to be reckoned with. He's a guy that you don't want to lower you guard around, and the climax of the film is one of the most gripping, suspenseful, and absolutely scary sequences ever. The film is a horror film in a sense, but is mainly a psychological suspense thriller.
That ending though, is truly one of the few sequences that I feel could be deemed horrific, and it certainly something not easily forgotten.
This movie has been the subject of countless parodies imitations, and ripoffs, and that's a shame since it seems that these things tend to cheapen the original product. It is also to the credit of screenwriter Ted Tally and director Jonathan Demme that they were able to take material that could easily be construed as high grade lurid pulp and turn it into a high brow intelligent masterpiece that appeals to both thinkers and fans of the gruesome alike.