The Silence of the Lambs (SOTL) is a bold and disturbing film about a young FBI agent named Clarice Starling on the track of a brutal murderer named Buffalo Bill. In the process of tracking Buffalo Bill, Clarice enlists the help of another brutal murderer named Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lecter. Face Off (FO) is also a film about an FBI agent named Sean Archer, tracking down a supervillain terrorist named Caster Troy.
The FBI connection is not the only aspect of the plot these two films share. They both also utilize the cinematic tool of facial removal. Both films artistically show the removal of faces, but an enduring question remains: which film did it better? Or more accurately: Who wore it better?
FO utilized the FBI’s best surgical team and a whole bunch of fancy lasers, not to mention a state of the art medical facility. In SOTL, Hannibal Lecter removed Sergeant Pembry’s face with Lieutenant Boyle’s pocket knife. Innovative, yes. But hardly precise. This one goes to FO!
FO: 1 SOTL: 0
In FO, the FBI surgical team had a lot of time to prepare the facial switch operation and a lot of highly trained individuals to partake in the long surgery. While the film montage is only about three minutes long, the surgery itself was much longer. In SOTL, while we don’t see the actual facial removal, the scene takes place in real time, proving that Dr. Lecter has a swift hand with a scalpel. No doubt, this one goes to SOTL.
FO: 1 SOTL: 1
In FO, Sean Archer and Caster Troy not only switch faces, but body, voice, hairline, and chin as well. It is a complete makeover more convincing than any show on Bravo or whatever cable channel does makeover shows. Everyone in convinced, even Sean Archer’s wife! A definite win for FO! And yet, Dr. Lecter is also convincing, in as far as he needs to be. His motivations are simply to get out of prison, so his disguise only needs to be convincing for a few minutes. While his facial handiwork is not as complete as in the case of FO, it perfectly serves the purposes of convincing medical professionals and law enforcement officials. This one, is a tie!
FO: 2 SOTL: 2
90s action movies had plenty of scientific moments that required us, as viewers, to suspend our disbelief. And FO is a prime example of this. While director John Woo wonderfully crafted the facial removal sequences in FO, they’re hard to fully believe. On the other hand, Dr. Lecter is a brilliant and well-trained physician. His plan is well thought out and takes advantage of a very tense filmatic situation. Never for a moment do we disbelieve SOTL. This one goes to the cannibal!
FO: 2 SOTL: 3
Both films feature the removal of a person’s face without their consent. That is, and hopefully always will be, illegal. For this reason, neither film will be awarded a point. In fact, I feel it would be justified to take away a point from FO because it is the FBI, an organization that is supposed to aid in upholding our Federal rights, that removes Caster Troy’s face without his consent. And while Caster Troy is a supervillain, he still has inalienable rights. At least Hannibal Lecter is clear from the get go that he is a personal fan of human mutilation. No points will be awarded, but none shall be retracted.
FO: 2 SOTL: 3
Hannibal Lecter wore it better. While FO is a wondrous film of the 90s, with deeply Taoist themes infused by Hong Kong director John Woo, SOTL is a top notch film that won all the major Academy Awards. Nicolas Cage and John Travolta did very good jobs acting as both good and evil men in FO, but because of his ingenuity, brilliant plan, and ability to make us want him to win even though he eats other humans, this one must go to Hopkins.
Hannibal Lecter wore it better!