Hitchcock: A Review
Hitchcock – Dir: Sacha Gervasi; *ing: Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Toni Collette, Scarlett Johansson, Danny Huston, James D’Arcy
We all go a little mad sometimes
While there have been more books written on cinema’s Master of Suspense Alfred Hitchcock than you could shake a blood-drenched knife at, any cinematic explorations of his life and/or work have been curiously missing. Until now, that is. Last year there was the controversial TV movie The Girl, based on Hitchcock leading lady Tippi Hedren’s accounts which portrayed the director as a sex-crazed, obsessive dirty old man. While that project raised its fair share of hackles, having now watched Sacha Gervasi’s unimaginatively titled Hitchcock, it’s hard to decide which film would’ve been felt like a bigger affront to the man himself – that well-made hatchet job or this dull, stiff and thoroughly self-conscious bore?
The premise of the film is itself inherently flawed for it presupposes a universal film audience’s familiarity with the lore surrounding the making of Hitchcock’s 1960 seminal slasher masterpiece Psycho. While expecting that from all civilized moviegoers is alright, it precludes a massive chunk of younger, uncultured audiences who don’t know the film and think Hitchcock is the punchline to a dirty joke. Even if one were to put that aside though, Hitchcock as a stand-alone picture remains an oddly uninvolving, even somewhat amateurish piece of work, like a TV movie-of-the-week with slightly elevated pedigree.
Rather than having a go at a proper bio-pic, Gervasi’s plot centres on Hitch (Hopkins) and his loyal wife Alma (Mirren) as they navigate the monumental task of getting a film off the ground that no one wants to make: Psycho – based on a novel by Robert Bloch who in turn had based his book on the gruesome real-life exploits of serial killer Ed Gein. The director’s studio, Paramount Pictures, is horrified that their most prized asset wants this sordid tale of murder, transvestism, and necrophilia to be his next project after the super-hit sophisticated thriller North By Northwest. Hitch himself is unsure if his brand of genius will translate successfully to a new and changing film landscape – is he too old-fashioned for the groovy Sixties? As he suffers a crisis of confidence and battles prudish censors, it is Alma, his lifelong collaborator, who steps up and saves the day, from brilliant casting suggestions to crucial decisions regarding the infamous shower sequence, while also allaying her insecure husband’s suspicions of an extra-marital affair. The resulting film of course became Hitchcock’s most celebrated, as well as most commercially successful venture.
It’s not difficult to see that Hitchcock seeks to pay homage to its subject without gushing too obviously. It also wants to acknowledge Alma Hitchcock’s oft-overlooked contribution to her husband’s legend, while at the same time giving a nod to the demons that allegedly plagued the man, even as he tried to mask them behind a droll, self-deprecating exterior. Ultimately, it’s all a little too much for the film to handle and it never really finds its focus, each sequence disjointedly propped up with the next as we listen to such clunkers: (on casting Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates) “Think of the duality he could bring to the role.” Elsewhere, the puzzling decision to insert Ed Gein’s spectre into the scenario as some sort of grotesque muse for Hitchcock just comes off hokey. And it is sadly ironic that a film about Hitchcock, one of the greatest exponents of the vocabulary of cinema, is itself visually so pedestrian. Some redemption comes in the form of Mirren who is as good as ever, though she does pose a rather more imposing figure than the actual diminutive Mrs. Hitchcock; and D’Arcy is a minor miracle as Perkins, uncannily pulling off the late actor’s particular tics and cadences. Hopkins though, is never quite believable in the title role, coming off as himself in a fat suit and prosthetics, rather than Alfred the great.
So the Master still awaits a film worthy of his considerable stature. Meanwhile, if you choose to watch Hitchcock, remember the director’s own words of warning: “It’ only a mooovie.”
Cult: Ed Wood (1994) – Tim Burton’s affectionate homage to the ‘Worst Director of All Time’ is one of the best bio-pics ever committed to film.
Current: Lincoln – Spielberg got accolades and Daniel Day-Lewis an Oscar for this somber account of the beloved American president.
Coming Attraction: Bates Motel (2013) – American TV channel A&E is set to take a gamble with this series that is a prequel of sorts to the original Psycho.