*** (out of 5)
November 15, 2012
Anthony Hopkins as ALFRED HITCHCOCK
Helen Mirren as ALMA REVILLE
Scarlett Johansson as JANET LEIGH
Danny Huston as WHITFIELD COOK
Toni Collette as PEGGY ROBERTSON
Jessica Biel as VERA MILES
Directed by: Sacha Gervasi
BY KEVIN CARR
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Like most film buffs out there, I enjoy most of Alfred Hitchcock movies. Of course, also like most average people out there, I was introduced to the man with his most famous work: “Psycho.” After seeing that movie as a child, and then seeing his more well-known classics like “Rear Window,” “Vertigo” and “The Birds,” I discovered a wider filmography than just a horror movie director.
Still, Hitchcock will be forever known for his impact on the horror genre with “Psycho,” even though much of his work doesn’t quite fall in that wheelhouse. In fact, even though the man is often called the “master of suspense,” his filmography as a whole isn’t as taut as you might think. (After all, “The Trouble with Harry” is a straight-up comedy, and “Rebecca” is more a dark drama than anything else. Consider also that I’m not even touching on his early works.)
But the world’s obsession with “Psycho” remains, and it’s very clear in the new film “Hitchcock.”
It seems that 2012 is the year of biopics that aren’t really biopics. “Lincoln” is less about the history of the man than it is about a few months in his Presidency and what he was trying to accomplish. Similarly, “Hitchcock” isn’t about Alfred Hitchcock as much as it is about the hoops he had to jump through to get “Psycho” made.
Also, like “Lincoln,” the film features a performance by the lead actor that can possibly overshadow the film itself. The advantage “Lincoln” has over “Hitchcock” is that “Lincoln” is a much better film.
That’s not to say that “Hitchcock” is bad. It’s just somewhat standard for end-of-the-year award films. It seems that every year, a handful of films are released that appear to be primarily aimed at getting an actor or actress award consideration. Usually there’s a George Clooney film in the batch, but the most obvious entry in this year’s field is Anthony Hopkins.
To be sure, Hopkins does a fantastic job as Alfred Hitchcock. Like Meryl Streep’s performances as Margaret Thatcher in “The Iron Lady” and Julia Child in “Julie and Julia,” Hopkins takes an eccentric character and actually breathes life into the role rather than becoming a cheap “Saturday Night Live” impression.
However, just as impressive (though not as high profile), is Helen Mirren’s performance as Alma Reville, Hitchcock’s wife. She actually brings more humanity to the role, possibly because she is less exacting on the performance and more about the character behind it. Still, the reason to see “Hitchcock” is for these performances, as well as some excellent supporting turns from Toni Collette and Jessica Biel. The normally humdrum but beautiful Scarlett Johansson does a passable job as Janet Leigh, but it’s James D’Arcy as Anthony Perkins that really steals a few scenes (and it’s a shame D’Arcy is given such scant screen time).
Sure, the ins and outs of “Psycho” behind the scenes is interesting for film fans (although I imagine a certain degree of creative license is employed). But beyond the initial “gee whiz” factor, the story itself plays a bit soft.
Director Sacha Gervasi tries to liven things up with weird dream-like sequences with Hitch identifying with Ed Gein (the inspiration for Robert Bloch’s book “Psycho”), but these play off terribly out of tone with the rest of the picture.
In general, Hollywood loves movies about itself, and this film revels in navel-gazing throughout much of its run time. As good as the performances are, the film loses some of its majesty to just see the everyday boring life of some of the people in the works. Think of it as the depressing world “The Player” existed in once you got past all the giddiness of seeing all those cameos.