REVIEW: Hitchcock [2012]

Score: 7/10 | ★ ★ ★

Rating: PG-13 | Runtime: 98 minutes | Release Date: November 23rd, 2012 (USA)
Studio: Fox Searchlight Pictures
Director(s): Sacha Gervasi
Writer(s): John J. McLaughlin / Stephen Rebello (novel Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho)

“All men are potential murderers”

Based on a book called Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho by Stephen Rebello, it’s easy to assume Sacha Gervasi‘s Hitchcock will do just that and little else. And while fans of the horror classic clamoring for this exact insight will fill the seats opening weekend, more needs to happen to ensure broader success. So it’s no surprise that John J. McLaughlin‘s script delves deeper into the iconic auteur’s psyche at a time when the world believed him to be over-the-hill and ready for pasture. Like Psycho pilfered from the tragic events surrounding serial killer Ed Gein, Gervasi borrows from both to show Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins) as a vulnerable mess of emotions attempting to overcome his belief of constant betrayals at the hands of the women in his life.

Of those, it is his wife Alma Reville (Helen Mirren) whose deception he fears the most. As such, the filmmakers hone in on this detail and end up giving the woman behind the man some overdue applause. She script edits, constantly gives notes, and even grabs hold of the set while her husband is laid up at home in ill health and yet receives little credit besides from the so-called “important few”. And as Psycho necessitates the couple to self-finance production, she has never been more invested in the process. The pressure imposed quickly reveals insecurities of old age and their desire for the past. But while this reinvigorates the creative juices, it also sparks jealousy as Hitch continues searching for the perfect blonde bombshell while she begins to wonder if her chances of filling that bill are about two decades late.

The film therefore does go behind the scenes but it isn’t only Psycho that Gervasi cares about. Hitchcock instead becomes an exposé on the life and struggle of genius and the collateral damage it creates. We watch Hitch incessantly drink, sneak snacks, and fawn over the beautiful creatives within arm’s reach. If what we see is to be believed, he may have never cared about his leading ladies’ craft as long as they possessed the sensuality he and his audience yearned to experience. In fact, the voyeurism on display with Anthony Perkins’ (James D’Arcy) Norman Bates might be so authentic because Hitch had much of the same proclivities. Jessica Biel‘s Vera Miles may state that the James Stewart character in Vertigo is an embodiment of the director, but Bates may be a more accurate comparison.

And this is why the scenes finding Hopkins opposite a manifestation of Gein (Michael Wincott) are so intriguing. This murderer is not only his muse, but also confidant. While Alma tries being creative with her old friend Whitfield Cook (Danny Huston) to escape the shadow of her husband’s legend, Hitchcock is left to the dark recesses of his scared and scorned mind. He holds the feminine ideal so high that an actress getting pregnant becomes a personal affront towards his efforts in making her a star. Just as Gein needed affirmation from his deceased mother, Alma and Alfred tread water until the other’s validation arrives. She wants to feel beautiful and he hopes to receive her undivided support once the world give’s up.

The infusion of suspense hinges on our uncertainty about whether Alma and Whit have potential to become more than colleagues as well as discovering the true cause of Alfred and Vera’s fractured relationship. Yes, aficionados may know all these answers, but I personally found myself constantly wondering if either may have had or will soon have an affair. And it all stems from the performances because the nuanced looks and reactions of Hopkins and Mirren speak volumes when the other is falling short of their expectations. Watching Alfred fawn all over Scarlett Johansson‘s Vivien Leigh at dinner is too much for Alma to take and we see firsthand the depths of their troubles only exacerbated by the fits of accusation and revenge to come.

This is key to the film’s success because without the actors excelling beyond mere imitation, the subject matter is a made for TV movie at best. Don’t get me wrong; I loved watching the lengths taken to make Leigh’s scream authentic and the usual financial backers’ utter disgust when Hitchcock shares the subject of his new film. But these instances aside, the film is more a quaint anecdote than involving drama. We need the rocky marriage and risk of bankruptcy to consume us because they are the conflicts that hold our interest despite knowing Psycho will eventually become the auteur’s most successful work. Fun behind the scenes tidbits only go so far if the story they inhabit lacks importance to warrant our time.

Thankfully Hitchcock proves entertaining from its opening spoof of “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” to its not so subtle nod to what would be his follow-up thriller. And while Hopkins is sure to get mention for his effective transformation, it’s those around him who truly bring the period piece to life. Michael Stuhlbarg‘s agent and Richard Portnow‘s studio head add industry flavor while the trio of D’Arcy, Biel, and Johansson do their real life counterparts justice. But if anyone stands out it’s Helen Mirren. Weathering the storm of being forever in the background of greatness, her strength and grace against adversity is admirable. She may have allowed herself to become a footnote in Hitch’s career, but it appears to have been a conscious choice for anonymity. I’m just glad Gervasi was able to set the record straight.

[1] Anthony Hopkins as “Alfred Hitchcock” on the set of HITCHCOCK. Photo By Suzanne Tenner
[2] Helen Mirren as “Alma Reville” on the set of HITCHCOCK. Photo By Suzanne Tenner
[3] Jessica Biel as “Vera Miles,” Scarlett Johansson as “Janet Leigh” and James D’Arcy as “Anthony Perkins” on the set of HITCHCOCK. Photo By Suzanne Tenner

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