Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Review: "Hitchcock"

In a career that spanned more than sixty years, Alfred Hitchcock directed more than fifty films. His first film was The Pleasure Garden in 1925 and his final feature film was 1976's Family Plot. He never won an Academy Award for Best Director (though his film Rebecca won Best Picture in 1940), and this lack of recognitition is a major focus of Sacha Gervasi's film Hitchcock. It is Gervasi's first feature film, after the 2008 documentary Anvil! The Story of Anvil. There are certainly some miscues in his first narrative film, some which make the film feel more laborious for the viewer than it should be. Hitchcock focuses on the period between 1959 and 1960 when Alfred Hitchcock, under contract to Paramount, had a great amount of trouble bringing Psycho to fruition. The film would go on to be nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Director, and it is widely considered one of Hitchcock's best films. As Alfred Hitchcock, Anthony Hopkins offers a tremendous performance as the cocky and eccentric British director (though the two share little resemblance), but it is Helen Mirren who rightly owns the film. Her performance as Alma Reville, Hitchcock's wife and creative partner, is the best part of the film. She brings such intensity to her roles, and Alma Reville is no exception. There is a tongue-in-cheek comedic element to the film, with Hopkins' Hitchcock talking the invisible Ed Gein (Michael Wincott), who was the inspiration for Robert Bloch's Norman Bates in the novel Psycho (1959). Hitchcock, based on Stephen Rebello's 1990 nonfiction book Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho, knows and understands its hero. Hitchcock was a conceited and influential man who often fell victim of his blonde actresses (in this case, Scarlett Johansson's Janet Leigh), and Anthony Hopkins does a remarkable job. Luckily, Helen Mirren is his costar. Hopkins, like Hitchcock himself, would have been lost without Alma Reville. Hitchcock, while often too light, is an insightful look at one of Hollywood's most beloved directors, with two outstanding performances from powerhouse veterans Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren.

The 1950s were kind to Alfred Hitchcock (Hopkins), but after the success of North by Northwest in 1959 (made for MGM), Paramount was eager for him to make a similar Cary Grant-esque thriller. Wanting to further expand his repertoire, Hitchcock opted to adapt Robert Bloch's Psycho. His wife Alma (Mirren) and  Barney Babalan (Richard Portnow) were disapproving of his choice to direct such a disturbingly violent film. Hitchcock had to endure misgivings from his secretary (Toni Collette) and Whitfield Cook (Danny Huston), an aspiring writer and friend of Alma's. Even the head of the censor board (Kurtwood Smith) was unwilling to give Psycho his seal of approval, considering the film's now infamous shower scene. Through filming, Hitchcock became obsessed with his leading lady, Janet Leigh (Johnansson), and failed to realize that his wife was slipping further away from him.

Alfred Hitchcock had a penchant for blonde women. He worked with the incomparable Grace Kelly in 1954 in Dial M for Murder and Rear Window, and again in 1955's To Catch a Thief. In one of his best films, Vertigo (1958), he cast Kim Novak, who delivered one of the finest performances ever in a Hitchcock film. In Psycho, Janet Leigh was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. Interestingly, these actresses did very little after working with Hitchcock - though Grace Kelly did retire from acting to become Princess of Monaco. Hitchcock does mention that Alfred Hitchcock attempted to cast Vera Miles (played by Jessica Biel) in Vertigo, but she had to drop out for family reasons. Hitchcock believed that he could have made Miles a star, but she chose her private life, something he could never understand. Vera Miles ended up starring in just six films, including Psycho II in 1983 (after Hitchcock's death). Though the film assuredly takes liberties, I loved the relationship between Alfred Hitchcock and Alma Reville. Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren have such chemistry that the success of the film is bound by the credibility of their relationship.Alma may have stood in Hitchcock's shadow, but there is no way for Mirren to stand behind Anthony Hopkins. This is one of Helen Mirren's best performances in recent memory, dare I say even better than her characterization of Elizabeth II in The Queen. I do believe that Hitchcock would have been a better film with a more experienced director, as it does feel a little cheesy at times. Hitchcock focuses on a short, but extremely interesting, part of Alfred Hitchcock's life and I am left wanting to know more about the man and his creative relationship with his wife.

My rating: 3 stars out of 4.

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