Genre(s): Biography, Drama
Director(s): Sacha Gervasi
Release Year: 2012
Rotten Tomatoes: 64%
The legacy of Alfred Hitchcock lives on in his wide assortment of suspense films, some of which took their time to become classics, and others that became instant hits upon release. Psycho was one of his films that received mixed reviews critically, yet was adored by audiences, becoming a box office success for Hitchcock and ultimately maintaining itself as the highest grossing film of his career. The production on the film has been noteworthy for several reasons, such as the lack of studio support from Paramount, a change of style for Hitchcock, and battles with the Motion Picture Production Code. In Hitchcock, all of this is addressed and then this biopic of the master of suspense becomes a film trying to walk the line between fact and fiction. The world is introduced to a peeping tom, always watching everything, obsessed with blondes, worried about how his film is received, and married to Alma Reville (Helen Mirren) who acts more as a mother figure than anything else. Acting aside, the movie has but a few mere moments of entertainment before it slouches back into its attempt to craft a fictional life behind one of the greatest directors of all time, in an extremely boring fashion.
Following the production of Psycho in 1959 and briefly, its release, Sacha Gervasi shows Alfred Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins) as he struggles with trying to make a film that no one believes he should make. Intertwined throughout this story of movie hardships is a love triangle between Hitchcock, his wife Alma, and Whitfield Cook (Danny Huston), the screenwriter of films like Strangers on a Train and Stage Fright. Oddly enough, this film puts a lot of emphasis on complicated mother-son relationships, such as the one displayed between Alfred and Alma, with no justified pay-off in the end. The romanticism between the two is nonexistent until the end of the film after Hitchcock realizes he needs her help to make Psycho successful, but even then, one could argue there is still no relationship beyond mother-son in the film. He needs her, just like any son needs their mother in a time of struggle, and they become closer because of it. He adheres to her demands that he previously refused to acknowledge (eating less carbs, and drinking less), giving into the mother’s wishes. This is meant to parallel the story of Norman and Norma Bates, but why? There’s no reason to have done this and as a biopic, it completely breaks from the factual events of Hitchcock’s life.
Now, I’m not saying a movie cannot be completely fantastical about one’s life (see: Being John Malkovich) but when the audience is supposed to perceive the relationship as a love story, how should I react when I got no love story out of it? The two have a daughter, but that’s never mentioned in the film, so there’s a missed opportunity to build a romantic plot out of its two stars. Then there’s Alfred’s obsession with blondes that is only ever explored through dialogue and him caressing photos of blonde actresses. Otherwise he’s busy staring through a peep hole in his trailer and office. And why exactly would he obsess over blondes if he’s supposed to be a mirror image of Ed Gein, thus obsessing only over his mother, or in this case, Alma? Meanwhile, the man is constantly suspicious of his wife having an affair with Whitfield throughout the film, and his major evidence of it comes due to a hallucination that points him directly to it. That is one of the biggest problems when it comes to hallucinations in film: they’re not allowed to just point you to evidence. There’s no justification for Ed Gein to be telling Hitchcock about sand on the floor of his bathroom. The more believable way to find sand on a bathroom floor would be to walk on it barefoot, not have Ed Gein tell you it’s there.
The movie isn’t all bad though, as the acting in this is definitely the caliber you’d expect from people like Helen Mirren and Hopkins. Scarlett Johansson in particular is great as Janet Leigh, and James D’arcy, though not prominent in the film, does an exceptional Anthony Perkins. And it’s always nice to see Michael Stuhlbarg in anything, even if his role is merely Hitchcock’s agent. But it’s Hopkins and Mirren who are the stars of the film, and in the case of Mirren, Academy Award nominee material as well. It’s obvious this film wants awards season to recognize its performances, but I can only say Johansson and Mirren were extraordinary. Hopkins looks similar to Hitchcock, but tons of make-up rids him of any emotional weight. Instead, he looks more like Danny Devito’s portrayal of the Penguin than like Alfred Hitchcock. His mannerisms are great, and he sounds like Hitchcock, but in no way does he carry any human qualities. There’s a scene when he’s pretending to be the composer orchestrating the shower scene’s score and it just looks like a robot flailing its arms about. Nothing feels real in his performance, and that’s the shame about the film. It can’t even give emotional depth to make up for its poor plot design.
There are also some great sequences near the beginning and end of the film, especially the ones involving the iconic shower scene in Psycho. That orchestration session mentioned above gave chills and a sense of how masterfully crafted that scene was, and the scene that’s in the trailer when Hitchcock gives the scare to Janet Leigh so she provides an authentic scream was great as well. My favourite scenes, however, came in the two bouts Alfred had with the Motion Picture Production Code (MPPC), where he tries to take on the censor and get his film a seal of approval. The interesting thing about these scenes is it shows the moral high ground the MPPC was taking, similarly to the MPAA that’s in place today, and it demonstrates what would need to be edited and just how those edits could lead to a more frightening film. Unfortunately, these are only one of the few interesting things in the movie, and they may not be as compelling to regular movie-goers as they were to me.
In summation, Hitchcock is a film trying to tell a fantastical tale of a director who helped shape and influence cinema, with no real method of doing so. It does some interesting things such as bring in visions of Ed Gein talking to Alfred, though it never really amounts to anything in the end. The mother-son relationship complex was probably an engaging notion on paper, but it feels more like a distraction than a full-fledged plot. Then there’s the acting which is great all around, but Hopkins feels very stiff as the iconic director. However, another great thing about the film is its cinematography, which isn’t exceptional but you can see the style is trying to emulate that of a Hitchcock film, which would have been great if the rest of the film behaved that way. To be honest, Hitchcock feels more like a missed opportunity than a failure. It isn’t an awful film, but it isn’t a particularly entertaining one, and its flaws are worn on its sleeves.
Overall: Not Recommended
Screening courtesy of Scene Creek