Who knew that a movie about the master of suspense could have so many laughs?
I went into last night’s screening of Hitchcock, starring Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren, expecting a straight drama. With the pedigree of the actors involved and the subject matter, I don’t think that would be an erroneous assumption. Hitchcock, however, is a much lighter film; if you are a fan of Alfred Hitchcock, I doubt that you’ll learn anything new here. The movie isn’t very deep, but it is fun. Not exactly what I thought I was getting, but still a movie that I enjoyed.
Hitchcock focuses on the time period when the director (Hopkins) was struggling to make what would be his most famous movie – Psycho. At sixty, Hitchcock is trying to prove to the studio – and perhaps himself – that his best years are not behind him and that he can still do innovative projects. When he decided to adapt the book Psycho, based on the murders of Ed Gein, there are doubts. The subject just seems too horrific to be a film and Hitchcock has to finance the film himself to get it made. The only person who is confident that Hitchcock can pull this off is his wife Alma (Mirren), who has been his sounding board and behind the scene partner for over 30 years.
While the film chronicles the time period when Hitchcock was working on Psycho, the real focus of the film is on the Hitchcock marriage. Psycho really only serves as a backdrop for watching the interactions of Alma and “Hitch.” Their marriage is an interesting one – Alma is fully involved in all of Hitch’s projects, but rarely gets the credit for her contributions. Instead, she is often pushed in the shadows and is forced to watch her husband receive all the accolades and leech after all the pretty blondes that he casts as his leading ladies. Hitch, meanwhile, is becoming increasingly uncomfortable with Alma working on a project with another writer; he is convinced that there is more to this relationship than simply a creative collaboration and he is not used to not having Alma at his beck and call for his projects.
The film makes some attempt to get into the psychology of Hitchcock, but it is one part of the film that really doesn’t work. Having Hitchcock carry on imaginary conversations with Ed Gein seems out of place with the rest of the film and the device is simply silly. While making an attempt to explain the inner workings of Hitch’s brain, it really only serves as a distraction. Nothing in these scenes seems at all credible; rather, it feels like the director has decided to use some of what he has learned in an undergraduate psychology survey course. It’s all beyond goofy and detracts from the rest of the film. Thankfully, the device is used sparingly and I simply paid little to no attention to those scenes.
Anthony Hopkins is very good as Hitchcock, though he never completely disappears into the role. He doesn’t look much like the famous director – though they did give Hopkins Hitchcock’s legendary figure – but he doesn’t necessarily look like Hopkins either. It’s kind of a weird amalgam, but it works. Hopkins’ voice is closer to the director’s, but again, is just enough off that it isn’t completely convincing. I don’t think that is necessarily essential to a successful performance –it’s more important to capture the spirit of the person, which Hopkins does nicely – but after watching Daniel Day Lewis’ personification of Lincoln, you do notice when the actor is more present in a role. Mirren is outstanding as always, though she is definitely a more attractive version of Alma. She and Hopkins pair up nicely and it is a delight to watch them together on screen.
Some other thoughts:
- Hitchcock also sports a pretty impressive supporting cast: Scarlett Johansson as Janet Leigh, Jessica “Mrs. Timberlake” Biel as Vera Miles, Toni Collette as Hitch’s assistant, Danny Huston as Alma’s writing partner and a brief – and surprising – appearance by Ralph “Karate Kid” Macchio as the writer of Psycho’s screenplay. Macchio’s appearance caused quite a stir in the theater; people have apparently missed him.
- Ed Gein made quite an impression; not only is he the model for Norman Bates, but he was also the inspiration for Leatherface in Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Buffalo Bill in Silence of the Lambs. And that concludes today’s installment of “Get to Know a Serial Killer.”
- I am such a sucker for the clothes during this time period; I’m sure that they weren’t all that comfortable, but they are so pretty. I’d wear dresses every day if I could, which is a complete 180 from when I was a kid.
- If you watched HBO’s The Girl, Hitchcock gives a very different look at the famed director. There are mild hints of some of the obsession that Hitchcock had for the women he cast in his films, but for the most part his relationship with Leigh was depicted as totally professional and there was none of the drama on the set of Psycho like what Tippi Hedren allegedly had to put up with in The Birds. If you haven’t seen The Girl, I recommend it.
- I did enjoy the nods to Hitchcock’s hosting of the television program Alfred Hitchcock Presents at the beginning and end of the film.
- I definitely am going to have to dust off my Alfred Hitchcock: The Masterpiece Collection box set and re-watch some of these classic films. It’s been far too long since I’ve seen Psycho or Vertigo.
While I enjoyed Hitchcock and thought the movie was a lot of fun, it didn’t have the gravitas or depth of story that I expected. While it is an interesting character study, there isn’t a lot of story here. I’m somewhat surprised that they picked this time period; though Psycho was the film that Hitchcock is probably best known for, there isn’t a lot to tell about its production. I get the sense that a lot of the drama in Hitchcock was fabrication or dramatization of actual events. In a way, the story squanders the immense talent that is up on the screen; I think with this cast they were capable of telling a much more interesting and in-depth story. Regardless, I think Hitchcock is worth seeing and is ultimately an agreeable film, even if it doesn’t quite live up to its potential. Not covering a lot of new ground, but everyone had a lot of fun during the film’s 90 minute run. Hitchcock is affable, but not innovative.
Hitchcock opens nationwide today.