Everyone has a group of about a half dozen films (usually more) which they absolutely love - without question they could watch them every week for the rest of their lives and enjoy them as much each time. Films which they cannot find a single fault in even though from an objective viewpoint if they looked more closely they could probably see them. For me, 'Silence' is one of those films. I first saw this at age 13, admittedly a little young but I peaked early so eh - still, the power of it just astonished me. Not a second of this two-hour flick, which redefined the term 'thriller' and spawned a host of clones, I can find error with.
As much as I love David Fincher's masterpiece "Se7en" and can see why some prefer it, to me 'Silence' is the king because it feels more real to me. Fincher relied on very stylistic murders and just an overall sense of decay with the main character looking back on his life. 'Silence' relied more on character interaction and mind games, along with a hero just starting out and still innocent in the ways of the world.
When you're 13, guess who you sympathise with more - a wide-eyed Jodie Foster or a scruffy looking Brad Pitt? Now a little older and wiser, "Se7en" is the more elaborately constructed of the two, but its 'Silence' sheer visceral simplicity that gets me every time. The defining thing for me is the way the performances, the dialogue, the directing, etc. can make just a two person conversation in a dreary prison set room into footage you can not turn away from and grips you right from the start. Freeman and Pitt's character talks still to this day never interest me anywhere near as much as Hopkins and Foster.
The elements are all spot-on. Hopkins is perfect as the ultimate screen villain - a character that at one moment is dry and witty, the next a frightening animal of vicious intent, and the next a charming gentleman. He's a true monster with an attitude you both admire and despise at the same time. Foster is exactly what you want in a hero - strong, moral and good yet has an innocence that, the way you watch the crafty Lecter manipulate her with words, can't help but sympathise with at any age.
Glenn, Heald, and Levine give the performances of their careers in supporting roles that are fleshed out and fascinating. Demme's direction and the script are rock solid, pacing is on the ball the whole way through. The cinematography is dead on, the production design tasteful and ungimmicky, and the music - oh the music. The haunting theme sends a shiver over my spine every single time I hear it. You simply haven't seen movies if you haven't watched this. A genuine modern day classic.