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Review: Hitchcock takes a stab at eccentric director’s psyche

Posted by on November 23, 2012 – 12:03 am

Hitchcock© 2012 - Fox Searchlight Pictures
If you’ve never seen the 1960 Alfred Hitchcock directed suspense thriller Psycho, well, first off, I recommend you get on that right away, as you are missing out on one of the greatest and most influential films of all time; and secondly you will not be able to fully enjoy the very fun new movie Hitchcock, which is a behind-the-scenes biodrama about of the making of that classic film.

Alfred Hitchcock is one of the best known directors in cinematic history, not only because of his mastery of the craft, but also because of his P.T. Barnum approach to selling his films and himself. There are thousands of films made, but only a handful of well-known directors, and amongst those Hitchcock stands out as one of the all-time greatest, especially during his heyday of the 50s & 60s.

The biopic Hitchcock covers the trials and tribulations that the eccentric director (played by Anthony Hopkins) incurred during the making of his most famous film, Psycho, a movie that his studio refused to back and that he and his wife Alma (Helen Mirren) ended up financing themselves at enormous risk.

For those interested in film history and the process in which cinematic sausage is made, Hitchcock is a very entertaining look at pre-Psycho censorship and corporate studio strong-arming. It also offers some insight into the movie stars and writers of its era, but is specifically focused on its title character and his wife & professional partner.

Hitchcock© 2012 - Fox Searchlight Pictures
Hopkins delivers an amazing performance as the brilliant but off-kilter director with a penchant for gallows humor and an obsession for his leading ladies. Under elaborate prosthetic make-up he sufficiently looks the part of the iconic artist, but the quality of his acting far outweighs the overly obvious fake jowls that the actor is buried behind.

Helen Mirren also does an excellent job as Hitchcock’s wife Alma, who simultaneously pulls duty as his pseudo mother, his voice of reason and his business partner. While the film covers many details about the filmmaking process, the loving but sometimes troubled relationship between Alfred & Alma is at its heart.

Hitchcock’s sum is certainly greater than its parts as first-time feature director Sacha Gervasi tries to cover a lot of ground, but he lacks some discipline in knowing what to keep, what to cut and what to expound upon. He could have benefited from Hitchcock’s legendary editing prowess and more than one section of this film felt disjointed and unnecessary; while I would have loved to see more detail in other bits.

Hitchcock© 2012 - Fox Searchlight Pictures
The Hitchcock cast is superb and includes Scarlett Johansson as Janet Leigh, Toni Collette as Hitchcock’s production assistant Peggy Robertson, Jessica Biel as Vera Miles and James D’Arcy from Cloud Atlas as Anthony Perkins. If you watch closely, there is even a weird appearance by Ralph Macchio (The Karate Kid) as Psycho’s screenwriter Joseph Stefano.

One of the strangest quirks of this film is the inclusion of Ed Gein (played by Michael Wincott) who appears to Hitchcock as a vision that guides him through the making of Psycho. Gein is the infamous real-life killer that Psycho’s Norman Bates was based on. Again, this is interesting, but these scenes sometimes felt out of place within the whole of the movie.

Hitchcock is based on the book “Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho” by Stephen Rebello and I have not yet read this account, but I’m curious if some of the awkwardness of the film stems from the book or if it comes from screenwriter John McLaughlin’s treatment of the material.

Although at times Hitchcock has a somewhat clunky narrative, there are enough moments of pure magic to still make this a fantastic movie for fans of the director. There is more than one Hitchcock cameo in this film, which is a lot of fun given that this was one of the director’s trademarks. He also appears in several places speaking to the audience as if he were hosting an episode of his Alfred Hitchcock Presents television series, complete with his signature dry wit.

Hitchcock© 2012 - Fox Searchlight Pictures
Hitchcock is also an interesting look the pivotal era when movies grew-up and began pushing the societal boundaries that hampered the art form from truly reflecting reality. The film scenes where Hitchcock is attempting to politically sway the censors are among the movies most interesting.

Although it is a small portion of this overall film, I was intrigued by the sequence in which Alfred & Alma concoct a marking scheme for Psycho after the studio plans to only place the film into two theaters. The way in which they ingeniously created a buzz about their upcoming movie was fascinating and the ending of Hitchcock, where the director premieres his film to its first audience, is worth the price of admission on its own.

Although it sometimes loses focus, Hitchcock is an excellent film about the dogged determination of an immensely interesting artist trying to stay true to his vision, regardless of the obstacles thrown in his path. It’s a must-see for fans of Hitchcock and of film history. Grade: 8/10

Opens in limited release at Harkins Camelview – November 23,2012.