Director: Sacha Gervasi
Writers: John J. McLaughlin (screenplay), Stephen Rebello (book)
Stars: Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Scarlett Johansson, Danny Huston
Release date: December 14th, 2012
Distributor: Fox Searchlight Pictures
Running time: 98 minutes
Best part: Helen Mirren’s steely performance.
Worst part: Anthony Hopkins’ distracting make-up.
Back in Hollywood’s heyday, prolific British director Alfred Hitchcock inspired a wave of crime/thriller films and film-makers. However, none of them were able to match Hitchcock’s own notoriety. A man with an original idea can seemingly rule Hollywood. He was a man who held a quintessential vision every-time he stepped behind the camera. HBO’s The Girl and Hitchcock have recently recreated important segments of the great director’s life. Hitchcock is a loving ode to his oeuvre, yet fails to create a succinct dramatic depiction of ‘The Master of Suspense’.
This biopic picks up with Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins) in the midst of the explosive success of his spy flick North by Northwest. Despite critical acclaim and studio access at his fingertips, he is pushed toward projects seemingly below his impressive status. Hitchcock becomes inspired by the story of convicted serial killer Ed Gein, depicted in the chilling best-seller Psycho. Hitchcock’s privileged yet frustrating marriage to sympathetic wife Alma Reville (Helen Mirren) is tested as adapting the novel becomes the influential director’s obsession. An instant horror-thriller classic is brought to life through a painstaking journey. The consequences of Hitchcock’s questionable actions come to light. Fresh-faced actors and actresses, intrusive studio heads and the Motion Picture Production Code breathe down his bloated neck. But he must also contend with his wife’s suspicious friendship with screenwriter Whitfield Cook (Danny Huston).
Hitchcock created possibilities, exceeded expectations and infuriated the most important people in tinsel town throughout his illustrious career. Despite his influence on modern film-making, his professional life is as important as his degrading personal life with Alma. The story constantly jumps between the making of Psycho, a formulaic biopic, a psychoanalytic look into Hitchcock’s mind and a dramedy. This representation of Hitchcock’s perspective is lacking a sense of immersion. The storyline is filled with underdeveloped and unnecessary recreations of the great director’s experiences. Vertigo-inducing due to the film’s schizophrenic storytelling, Hitchcock creates only an elusive figure that barely delves beyond his own personality. However, the making of Psycho is the most involving aspect of Hitchcock. Psycho was one of Hollywood’s greatest success stories. It was independently funded, original, chilling, perverse and remembered for its shocking shower sequence. Hitchcock’s bizarre means of promotion, production and distribution succinctly build his reputation. Another storyline that works is Alma’s connection to her husband. Her love for Hitchcock subtly draws her closer while his brash love of blondes and film-making pushes her away. A polite and immaculate part of Hitchcock’s life, she still pushes her husband to continually prove his impressive reputation.
Films such as Chaplin and Ed Wood provide in-depth and dramatic depictions of famous directors. They create expansive stories while depicting important parts of their lives. Based on Stephen Rebello’s non-fiction book Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho, Hollywood’s love of Hitchcock is proven to be invaluable. Sacha Gervasi (Anvil! The Story of Anvil) creates a witty and insightful interpretation of Hitchcock’s time with the infamous Bates Motel. However, Hitchcock unfortunately lacks both the visceral joys and in-depth character study elements needed for a truly meaty Hitchcock biopic. Gervasi paints a bright yet sanitised picture of vital events. Tonally imbalanced; unnecessary plot-lines and a goofy sense of humour decrease the film’s importance. It takes the ‘cock’ out of ‘Hitchcock’. It’s safe, pulpy and light-hearted while being uncomfortably dark in others. Hitchcock is visited by Gein in the subconscious. This Shining-like examination of Hitchcock may have been vital in a greater story, but in this goofy dramedy it’s noticeably unessential.
“Beware, all men are potential murders. And for good reason.” (Alfred Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins), Hitchcock).
Hitchcock is a fun experience for film buffs; able to identify every one-per-second reference to trends, issues, directors and films of the time. The average cinema-goer may avoid this film as it ironically avoids telling this story for, ahem, the birds. The film largely avoids the director’s controversial actions and behaviour, instead developing his symbolic traits. Fact and fiction are dressed up to elevate this touching tribute to a glorious cinematic icon. The director’s unique figure and love of voyeurism are dutifully constructed, and that’s before the story develops his influential film-making techniques enlivened during the making of Psycho. Hopkin’s portrayal doesn’t help much. Hopkins emphasises the elements of Hitchcock that make him a baffling caricature. His confronting physical presence and multi-layered make-up effects are noticeable to a disastrous extent. However, it’s fun to see stellar performances from Jessica Biel, Scarlett Johansson, James D’Arcy, Ralph Macchio, Michael Stuhlbarg, and Kurtwood Smith as figures important to Psycho‘s creation.
Hitchcock was clearly the biggest presence in any room, eagerly providing imagination and a witty reaction to every word spoken against him. So it’s underwhelming that a film chronicling the work of The Master of Suspense partially lacks thrills, charm and, well, suspense.