“Hitchcock” is an uneven film that has a few comically pleasing moments, but ultimately comes across as shallow. Anthony Hopkins is the master of suspense Alfred Hitchcock, a man who has become a mythical creature just as much as he’s become a directorial legend. In this instance, he’s an insecure general, who leers at his blond leading ladies, bullies people on set, and while he’s worried about his weight he’s fed up of his wife Alma (Helen Mirren) pestering him about it. The problem is, we already know all this about Hitch. We’ve known for years. As a result “Hitchcock” doesn’t really feel like a movie. It’s more of a TV movie you’d expect to find on the BBC at Christmas.
This is rather ironic, considering that the BBC did just that with “The Girl”, a rather dark depiction of Hitchock’s obsession with Tippi Hedren, his leading blond in “The Birds”, and how he put her through hell when she spurned his lecherous advances. If you were to put both “Hitchcock” and “The Girl” side-by-side, the latter probably edges it. That’s not to say “The Girl” was good; it was actually a bit of a hatchet job. But at least it had the guts to be darker, and cast doubt over the integrity of one of the best British directors that ever lived. Plus “The Girl” just feels like more of a movie than “Hitchcock”. It illustrates how in the current climate, TV has very quickly overtaken movies. They’re better written, better acted, they have more depth, and are comparatively cheaper.
There’s no doubt that Anthony Hopkins nails Alfred Hitchcock. He looks like him. He sounds like him. But still, he fails to convince. For the most part it feels more like mimicry than embodiment. It sounds strange that this is a criticism, but Hopkins really has too big a screen presence. When he introduces the story to camera in delightful Hitchcockian style, he doesn’t seem like the quiet narrator. He seems like someone who owns the film.
At the start of the film, Hitch is walking out of the premiere of “North by Northwest”. The press are gathered outside, all clamouring to ask him questions. One of them asks him if, considering his latest film is such a triumph, and his age, he will be calling it quits soon. We don’t hear Hitchcock answer, but we know what the purpose of this question is. It’s planted the idea in Hitch’s head that he must find something fresh and original to do next. This is probably the closest to the real master of suspense we ever get. We admire his urgency to find something no one has ever seen before. We feel warm when we see his delight when he comes across the novel “Psycho”, based on serial killer Ed Gein. And we smile wryly when he disgusts the press with his crime scene images, and finger sandwiches that he says are made of real fingers.
The director Sacha Gervasi gets the mood spot on during the first half hour. It’s a joy to watch Hitchcock rushing around, attempting to convince people that “Psycho” is worth investing in, despite it’s incredibly violent content. Hitchcock mortgages his house in order to fund the film himself, and Gervasi clearly admires his artistic integrity and passion in order to do that. But it’s when they actually start filming “Psycho” that the wheels fall off the wagon. “Hitchcock” turns from an uplifting comedy drama to a soapy melodrama. It has no idea what it wants to be. One minute Hitch is cracking jokes, the next he’s leering through a peep hole into Vera Miles’ (Jessica Biel) dressing room. Hitchcock’s misogyny is more truthful to the real life director, but it’s presented so fleetingly in the mix that it feels totally out of place. It’s strange, but the comedic build-up to the start of the production actually betrays the story. Gervasi wants to focus on the idea of Hitchcock being vulnerable and flawed, but still can’t seem to resist making him a wryly humorous charmer. Here Hitchcock is a quick witted personality first, and a deeply flawed, lecherous misogynist second. If Gervasi wants to make a great film, he needs to swap those priorities around.
We get a peek into Hitch’s psyche when he dreams about witnessing Ed Gein (Michael Wincott) commit his murders. He later goes from the subject of dreams to a full blown hallucination when Hitch becomes obsessed with his wife Alma (Helen Mirren) and her friendship with her writing partner Whitfield Cook (Danny Huston). One minute the director is making a dry joke about how men can easily be driven to kill when Alma tries to take away his ice cream, the next he’s trying to collect evidence of Alma’s suspected affair when Ed Gein suggests it. “Hitchcock” is trying to explore Hitch’s complex mind, but it’s unable to multi task. Gervasi seems torn as to what to focus on; Hitchcock or “Psycho.” He should be able to do both at the same time, and while he attempts that during an on-set tantrum, it fails to break the surface.
Everything should revolve around the process of making “Psycho”, but really things just happen around it. Alma eventually accepts her husband’s new vision, and she allows him to mortgage their house when not a single studio will touch “Psycho” with a barge pole. Helen Mirren is a delight, as always, in the role and she has decent chemistry with Anthony Hopkins. But as their marriage comes under predictable strain as the film goes on, what was a good relationship shifts into soapy melodrama.
Alma is given a little more screen time than most lead character’s wives. This is probably down to Helen Mirren’s screen presence for the most part, but Sacha Gervasi is the main source of any deep insight. It’s like he’s constantly battling with the script, trying to find something that isn’t common knowledge. When portraying the production of “Psycho”, Gervasi brings a lot of intrigue to the process, and teases us along the way. The filming of the infamous shower scene however is painfully misinformed. It has no doubt been altered for the purposes of the story, but an infamous moment like that deserves a little more screen time.
There’s no doubt that Sasha Gervasi has good intentions, but perhaps they are a little too good. He wants to pay respect to one of the greatest directors that ever lived, but perhaps feels he can’t do that if Hitchcock’s darker nature came to the service. Ultimately, “Hitchcock” should probably be a TV movie. It has some comic pleasures, and some enjoyable moments, but as a whole it’s rather shallow.
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