[Review] – Hitchcock

4 Dec

Hitchcock

Title: Hitchcock
Year: 2012
Director: Sacha Gervasi
Writer: John J. McLaughlin, based on the book by Stephen Rebello
Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Scarlett Johansson, Toni Collette, Danny Huston, Jessica Biel, James D’Arcy, Michael Stuhlbarg
MPAA Rating: PG-13, some violent images, sexual content and thematic material
Runtime: 98 min
IMDb Rating: 7.3
Rotten Tomatoes: 64%
Metacritic: 56

Alfred Hitchcock is, as we all know, one of the all-time great directors in the history of film. You don’t need me to tell you that, you’ve seen the movies that speak for themselves, or maybe you’ve even read the books about him. Maybe one of those books you read was Stephen Rebello‘s Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho, which chronicled every little aspect of the 1960 all-time classic that introduced us to Norman Bates. This film, aptly titled Hitchcock, adapts that book and sees every little thing about the making of Psycho, focussing especially on the relationship between the Master of Suspense and Alma Reville, his wife and partner.

An adaptation of the book had been around for like half a dozen years, actually, rumored first to be a television movie, then a mini series, then a film over at Paramount and finally now landing as a feature at Fox Searchlight. And I remember that as the names that would make up the project started being announced I was genuinely excited.

Sacha Gervasi was tapped to direct, which I thought was a genius choice considering how amazing his debut documentary Anvil! The Story of Anvil was back in 2008; John J. McLaughlin was tapped to pen the adaptation, and he was just coming off from co-writing Darren Aronofsky‘s masterful Black Swan; and then the cast was announced, which included Anthony Hopkins as the legendary director, Helen Mirren as his wife, Scarlett Johansson as Janet Leigh, James D’Arcy as Anthony Perkins, and a slew of supporting roles filled by the likes of Jessica Biel, Toni Collette and Michael Stuhlbarg. All of that sounded awesome, and when that first image of Mr. Hopkins in make-up as Alfred Hitchcock came out, I was sold.

Unfortunately, the end result just wasn’t something to call home about. I mean it’s a fun little movie with some pretty good performances, but it’s not much more, and considering the material here was just ripe for the taking, it felt like absolute fluff. It really is a pity, because yes Hitchcock works fine as far as what it set out to do, but it’s unfortunate that what it set out to do was a simply pleasant-enough low-stakes biopic that didn’t even pretend to be interested in making smart observations about the subject it was delving into.

At fault, I’m afraid to say, are Mr. Gervasi and Mr. McLaughlin. Like I said, the performances are all quite good, some are actually pretty amazing, but the fact of the matter is that Mr. Gervasi fails to really handle the tone of the movie and lets it all slip away from him in more than one occasion, and I thought the screenplay by Mr. McLaughlin was just too dead-set on exploring the relationship between the director and his wife. Don’t get me wrong, it’s an interesting relationship, it talks about that whole “behind every man there’s a great woman” stuff, but it felt like it was a movie about that relationship while in the middle of making a movie when it should have been the other way around.

Alfred Hitchcock read a book about a body snatcher named Ed Gein who he thought would serve as inspiration for an awesome villain. His agent disagreed and so did a head honcho over at Paramount, the studio that had made a killing from his films before, heck, even his wife, his partner and biggest fan, disliked the story. Hitchcock persevered, taking a loan on their home in order to finance it by himself. So far so good, because I was hoping it would be this awesome behind-the-scenes juicy stuff about the making of such an iconic film, but the whole ordeal then becomes just too damn focussed on not only the marriage, but the woman herself. This movie might have just as well be called Alma, or at the very least The Hitchcock’s.

That was infuriating to me. I wanted a movie that would tell me all about Alfred Hitchcock, the man and director, and tell it to me through him, through seeing him battle with his inner demons as he was working on a film and really see him painted as a flesh and blood man. Anthony Hopkins does a fine job at it mostly because the make-up is so incredible, but this film doesn’t bother going beneath the surface and at least hinting at some juicy material to be found in this story. Mr. Hopkins may be a fine actor and looks the part and does an okay job with the voice, but mostly because the material never warranted more it always seems like he’s impersonating the man and not really playing him.

Helen Mirren, a brilliant actress of course, is good as Alma. You get to see why she was so lovable and you believe her to be just tremendously smart, which only makes it harsher to realize that she never truly got the credit she deserved. You get all that with this performance, which is a fun performance and indeed a far better job with the role than most other actresses would have delivered but, again, I wanted more. I wanted to go deep inside of these people and not just get the glossy superficial depiction that adds absolutely nothing to what we already knew. As for the other performances, there are some good ones, James D’Arcy I thought was an uncanny Anthony Perkins and Scarlett Johansson was a damn fine Janet Leigh, she may not look a lot like her but the essence came through.

Last year we obviously had Simon CurtisMy Week with Marilyn, a film that could be compared to this one, telling a story set over half a century ago, featuring a gorgeous blonde and chronicling the production of a film while really being all about a relationship. I actually adored My Week with Marilyn though, I thought that one dug at some truths about its subject while this one is just like an out-of-focus photograph, barely even showing the surface. Yes, it’s a film that can surely be enjoyed, which is why I’m giving it a recommending grade, but you’d be lying if you told me you weren’t expecting more from this one.

Apparently issues with the rights prevented this film from using any stuff seen in the movie or from literally recreating scenes of it (maybe because of the sour taste left in their mouths after the experimental shot-by-shot remake of it Gus Van Sant did). Maybe that’s why we got so much of the Hitchcock’s domestic life and troubles, him crushing on Leigh and she crushing on a younger screenwriter played by Danny Huston, and maybe that’s why the reconstructions of the iconic scenes weren’t as awesome as I would’ve hoped.

Hitchcock entertains, sure, but it doesn’t do much more. Mr. Gervasi has a few stylistic flourishes that really work well, but for the most part I thought he was a little lost in all different things going on around him and preferred to let his two leads do the work. Granted, when your two leads are Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren you might be tempted to do the same and they are indeed quite fun to watch on-screen, Ms. Mirren especially looked like she was having a ball playing Alma, but this film could have been tremendously memorable by getting at some really nitty gritty truths about the legend and instead is simply a pleasant little movie that will be good to kill a couple of hours late at night if you catch it on cable, but not for much more.

Grade: B-

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