A film review by Craig J. Koban December 31, 2012


2012, PG-13, 98 mins.

Alfred Hitchcock: Anthony Hopkins / Alma: Helen Mirren / Janet Leigh: Scarlett Johansson / Vera Miles: Jessica Biel / Peggy: Toni Collette / Anthony Perkins: James D'Arcy

Directed by Sacha Gervasi / Written by John J. McLaughlin, based on the book “Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of 'Psycho'” by Stephen Rebello.

HITCHCOCK is a film about the making of one of the cinema’s greatest horror thrillers that offers shockingly little insight into the actual making of it.  Instead of delving headfirst into the day-to-day production woes of Alfred Hitchcock’s PSYCHO, we are given more unsatisfying glimpses into his fractured marriage to screenwriter and editor Alma Reville and an up-and-coming writer that had eyes on her.  Considering the long-standing legacy of Hitchcock’s iconic1960 film – not to mention the director’s immortal status as one of the greatest masters of movie suspense  – I was taken a little aback by HITCHCOCK’s focus. 

Of more compelling note is that this is the second film to feature Hitch this year if you also count HBO’s THE GIRL.  That telefilm showcased a somewhat unsavory and deeply sensationalistic view of the filmmaker as a perverted, sex starved, and cruelly megalomaniacal fiend that harassed Tippi Hedren while during the making of THE BIRDS.  HITCHCOCK, like THE GIRL, hones in on the director’s relationships while making a film, but this go-around Hitchcock is presented in a wholly conflicting manner, as a fairly likable, gentle minded, and more sympathetic figure that had – during this time in his career – nagging doubts about his age, talent, and ability to make meaningfully potent films.  Both THE GIRL and HITCHCOCK serve as an exercise in duality in showing the man behind the camera, but what both films lack is a more intriguing middle ground approach in terms of immersing themselves in what really made this man tick.  Frustratingly, these two films give us polar opposite extreme versions of the same man to the point where neither seems all that authentic. 

I guess that I prefer this film’s Hitchcock, mostly because it does not traverse down the path of a scathingly one-sided character assassination piece as the HBO entry did.  More interestingly, HITCHCOCK shows the auteur as a man that perhaps was getting broken down creatively by old age and seeing his own self-assuredness as an artist get suffocated by his studio’s growing indifference with him and his films.   As the film opens Hitchcock’s (Anthony Hopkins, buried under pounds of flabby prosthetic rubber makeup and a fat suit) has just recently released NORTH BY NORTHWEST to much financial and critical adulation.  Yet, he now remains stymied by what his next film should be, which he feels should be something that will stand well apart from his past works. 



He gets inspiration in the form of Robert Bloch’s 1959 book PSYCHO, which in turn was inspired by Ed Gein’s macabre murder spree.  Initially, both the studio and Hitch’s wife, Alma (Helen Mirren) find Hitch’s choice of material distasteful, especially considering that it contains borderline unmarketable subject matter (at the time) involving homosexuality, ghastly and barbaric serial killing, and incest.  Nonetheless, Alma decides to stand by her man and Hitch manages to convince his studio to make PSYCHO, but only if Hitch fits the production bill himself, which he does by mortgaging his home and risking every penny he has on it.  While desperately trying to make a feature film that will scare up audiences and hopefully make it past movie censors, Hitch grows increasingly distrustful of his wife’s interest in an author named Whit (Danny Huston), that wants to get his work noticed by the acclaimed director.  Whit also seems to have an unethical compulsion to be around Alma, but considering that he is played by Danny Huston, you just know that Whit will prove to be an uncaring and manipulative a-hole by film's end. 

On one hand, HITCHCOCK is pretty nimble footed and confident in terms of showing a showbiz marriage and all of the complications that occur as a result.  The film rests squarely on the shoulders of Hopkins and Mirren, who thankfully manage to have deliciously unforced chemistry throughout.  Hopkins is decent enough at modestly imitating Hitchcock (THE GIRL’s Toby Jones has him beat here) and the fairly decent makeup job to transform the slimmer actor into Hitchcock helps, even though, in the end, Hopkins still manages to look nothing like his real life inspiration.  Yet, just as he did in NIXON playing the disgraced US president, Hopkins inhabits himself so well in his part that you grow less distracted by his lack of physical resemblance to the person he’s playing. 

The real performance coup de grace, though, is Mirren, who has to encapsulate a key creative driving force in Hitchcock’s life that often never received a lion’s share of credit for it during Hitch’s superlative career.  What’s great about Mirren is how she balances playing an emotionally vulnerable woman that nearly succumbs to adultery with that of a deeply independent minded, determined, and head-strong person that had no problem standing up to Hitch’s more frustrating and hurtful eccentricities.  I also greatly liked James D’Arcy’s on-the-nose interpretation of Anthony Perkins, whom of course was chosen to play Norman Bates in a role that would unavoidably haunt his career.  Scarlett Johansson appears as Janet Leigh, and even though she’s not a dead ringer for the actress, she embodies her sassy spirit and essence well. 

Even though the performances are pretty much spot-on, HITCHCOCK never generates much interest in the behind-the-scenes production of PSYCHO, which seems delegated to the background in place of the soap opera-esque tension of Hitchcock’s growing jealousy of Whit and his increasingly cozy relationship with his wife (this is the least interesting aspect of the film).  Then there’s also a recurring visual motif of Hitchcock hallucinating that he’s talking to the real Gein, which seems distractingly gimmicky for its own good.  Many other subplots in the film seem underdeveloped, like one involving Vera Miles (Jessica Biel), an actress that Hitch once hoped would be his next leading lady to mould, but she instead turned away from him to have a family, which lead to Hitch – a notorious control freak when it came to his actresses – feeling unfulfilled.  THE GIRL had the tenacity, at least, to unreservedly showcase this problematic side of Hitchcock, whereas this film seems a bit too shy and reserved to do so. 

And as for the making of PSYCHO within the film?  You really won't learn much more about it by watching this film than what a cursory search on Wikipedia would relay, which ultimately leaves HITCHCOCK feeling largely unfulfilling and lacking in creative complexity.  Surely, trying to understand the hidden and guarded mindset of an enigmatic man like Hitchcock is a daunting task, to be sure, but I just left HITCHCOCK feeling that it was perhaps a bit too neat and tidy of an expose on the filmmaker and his times while having a disharmonious confluence of his marital and filmmaking quandaries.  Very little about Hitchcock’s technique and the pop culture stature of PSYCHO felt as easily disposable as this film treats it.     

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