How entertaining? ★★★☆☆
Thought provoking? ★☆☆☆☆
4 February 2013
This article is a review of HITCHCOCK.
“Nice clean, nasty piece of work, that’s what I’m looking for,” Hitch
The resurgent interest in Alfred Hitchcock over the last year includes a career retrospective at the British Film Institute, a drive to restore his silent oeuvre, VERTIGO winning the Sight & Sound best film poll, and Toby Jones playing him in THE GIRL. One of acting’s most accomplished, Anthony Hopkins, has taken on the titular directing legend here. Apart from the awful make-up effects, he delivers as usual. As does a starry cast, who surround him, in particular the regal Helen Mirren playing his wife Alma. Rather than be a tedious birth to death biopic, the focus is on the making of arguably Alfred Hitchcock’s most influential work – PSYCHO.
In 1959, Hitch, as he likes to be called, is at a fascinating point in his career:
- He’s a star in his own right, eclipsing most actors,
- Not only that, Alfred is then the most famous director “in the history of the medium”,
- He’s coming off a big hit, NORTH BY NORTHWEST,
- There is a deep desire to be recognised by the establishment (he never won a best director Oscar),
- Hitch appears worried about his future, fearful of being pigeonholed, and
- Being the master entertainer, a desire still prevails to shock an audience who might be getting used to his tricks.
All this brewing makes for cinephile heaven, encapsulated in the question posed: What if someone really good made a horror film? The icing on the cake being the plethora of names playing names:
Scarlett Johansson as Janet Leigh
Jessica Biel as Vera Miles
James D’Arcy as Anthony Perkins
Michael Stuhlbarg as Lew Wasserman
And chuck in Danny Huston, Toni Collette, and I sh*t you not, the Karate Kid himself, Ralph Macchio.
Going broader than the minutiae of filmmaking, the backdrop of PSYCHO’s inception, portrayed as difficult as THE GODFATHER’s is alleged to be, is used to explore Hitch’s marriage. The two acting titans eat up the screen. Hugely entertaining then, but a couple of choices slightly derail the experience:
- Some unnecessary mawkishness:
“I will never find a Hitchcock blonde as beautiful as you,” Alfred
“Oh, Hitch. I've waited thirty years to hear you say that,” Alma
Pass the puke bag.
- The unbelievable thread of darkness that runs through. HITCHCOCK opens with us witnessing Ed Gein (Michael Wincott) murdering his brother, and then Hitch breaking the fourth wall to address the viewer. Gein was the model for PSYCHO’s Norman Bates in Robert Bloch’s novel. Then at random points Alfred has dreams that see him interacting with Gein, akin to the lead’s inner demon in DRAGON: THE BRUCE LEE STORY. Maybe Hitch had such despair and rage, but it feels as if the makers want to add idiosyncratic gravitas that isn’t there.
- Not only that, the putting together of PSYCHO is done like a sports movie cliché montage – Hitch railing against forces obstructing him at many turns, and battling against the odds.
The last shot is a doozy though.
Ridiculously entertaining at times then, for movie buffs, but strains at credibility.