The biopic Hitchcock doesn't get much beyond the superficial; but you'll enjoy the creepy comedic experience anyways.
The films of director Alfred Hitchcock represent some of the greatest of 20th Century cinema: Psycho, North By Northwest, Vertigo, and my favorite Notorious could appear anywhere on a videophile's top 50. There was a grace to Hitch's films, achieving more than merely matching beautiful blondes to good looking men, but wrapping them in terrific stories that grayed everyone's motives before hitting us with suprising and sometimes frightening endings. And while his inventive camera work took us on a visual lecture of Direction 101, it was the man behind some of the most compelling movies in history that have raised the biggest questions. Hitchcock doesn't try to answer too many of those, settling instead on a dramedy that's thin on accuracy but fat with a deep and talented cast. Unfortunately, it's this lack of depth which gives Hitchcock more of a diet drink feel than a deep and satisfying experience for the senses.
Fresh off his success with North By Northwest, Alfred Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins, Titus) is searching for his next project, when the story of Ed Gein (Michael Wincott, Alien: Resurrection) and the loosely-based novel Psycho lands in his lap. The studios expect Hitch to create another brilliant psychoanalysis of humanity, not a straight-up horror flick. But Hitchcock, feeling as if he's in a rut, takes on Psycho and its graphic storyline by first introducing it to the L.A. press corps, many of whom shudder at the disturbing images which are laid out in front of them. Hitchcock's stunning success has also become a hindrance, leading many studios to reject his pitch outright rather than recognizing his brilliance and desire to reinvent himself. Determined to see the project green-lit, Hitch enlists the aid of his wife/off-set collaborator Alma Reville (Helen Mirren, The Queen) to personally finance the project at the sacrifice of their home and comfortable lifestyle. The duo have been married for so long that their affection towards each other is hidden deep under script revisions and long nights of shooting and editing. Still, Reville desires the attention of her husband, but only receives tacit approval as Hitch sits in the bathtub reading another review. As the script comes into form (with the help of a cameo by Ralph Macchio), Hitchcock hires the elusive beauty Janet Leigh (Scarlett Johansson, The Avengers) to play Marion Crane, along with the fading starlet Vera Miles (Jessica Biel, Total Recall 2012). As production delays and a failed early cut of the film create unforseen strains, Hitchcock learns that Reville is considering a tryst with writer Whitfield Cook (Danny Huston, X-Men Origins: Wolverine), whose ulterior motives rear their head late in the third act.
Rather than focusing on Psycho's production, Hitchcock is a story of relationships, inserting us into the role of a bird landing at various times to pick up that vital twig needed to build our nest someplace else. Helen Mirren casts a heretofore unknown light on Alma Reville, demonstrating her tenacity in picking up the pieces during Hitch's illness while charming the president of Paramount, whom she summarily dismisses when he attempts to bring in another director to finish Psycho. Hopkins nails Hitch, plain and simple - his dry wit and sardonic tone are there for us to enjoy, right up to the film's final and hilarious scene. He portrays Hitchcock as both an egotist and a voyeur, compelled to find the perfect blonde to star in his films at the potential expense of his marriage. When one considers the journey of most men to find that 'perfect woman,' Hitchcock becomes more a of a personal journey, documenting the fidelity issues that can commonly unwind any marriage regardless of wealth or fame. The realization that Hitchcock's bedrock in Reville might decide to carry on an affair is crushing to both the director and the audience. But those moments leading up to and after Alma's soul search are some of the film's best, whether it be Hitch's binge eating, or his desire for drink as Alma prunes the rosebushes. These exchanges feel like an old but favored t-shirt, and we're at once familiar with every fiber and hole created by years of wear, yet unable to get closer than arm's length to it. We come to admire the duo, not for their big screen accomplishments, but for the careful humanity they practice towards each other that was part and parcel of the 1950's.
Having raised Hopkins and Mirren to deservedly starry heights, it's hard to get past the rather stale performances of nearly everyone else, from Johansson to Biel and everyone in between. Many of these performances, which are limited to single scenes, feel almost as if newcomer Director Sacha Gervasi had hired them as cameos. All of them feel too practiced and come off a little stoggy for even Hitchcock himself. In the end, we're reminded that we're watching Johansson play Janet Leigh, and Beil play Vera Miles instead of losing ourselves in their performances. The blame could lay on Writer John McLaughlin (Black Swan), whose script incorrectly assumes that moviegoers are intimate with both Psycho and the actors of 1950's Hollywood. Without this pre-existing knowledge, one might find many of the jokes and quips as mere unfunny insider rubbish than important plot points. Thus, McLaughlin's uneven script bounces around too much, sacrificing important backstories for intimate and unnecessary details about Psycho's production. Rather than learning more about Miles' diminishing star or Leigh's Hollywood street cred, we witness uncomfortable scenes of Hitchcock traveling in the mind of Gein, or Tony Perkins (James D'Arcy, Master and Commander) audition with Hitch. And while not all is lost here - the creepy-funny tone throughout Hitchcock is at many times very rewarding - a story needs tone and depth, and our film has the previous in copious amounts but intensely misses the latter.
Hitchcock isn't terrible by any means, although audiences would benefit greatly from watching Psycho prior to arriving at the theater. Most will probably laugh regardless if they do their homework, as Gervasi and McLaughlin have concocted a fun but superficial production. Hopkins and Mirren will probably play Oscar bridesmaids rather than brides, but it shouldn't keep you from seeing Hitchcock. And just like that diet drink, one might enjoy the fizz but quickly forget the taste once the credits begin to roll. Hitchcock is rated PG-13 and has a runtime of 93 minutes.
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