‘Hitchcock’ Review

Published 2 years ago by , Updated November 18th, 2014 at 3:57 am,

hitchcock hopkins mirren Hitchcock Review

The film should be entertaining for die-hard Hitchcock fans, as well as moviegoers who are casually familiar with his cinema.

Cinema history has immortalized Alfred Hitchcock as one of the greatest directors of the 20th Century, so it’s easy to forget that things weren’t quite so rosy for the ‘Master of Suspense’ back in 1959. Hitch may have been back on top of the world thanks to the success of North by Northwest, but (to quote Shakespeare) uneasy lies the head that wears a crown – as concerns about old age and doubts after his previous picture Vertigo (which was a critical and financial flop upon initial release, believe it or not) weighed heavily on his mind.

Hitchcock picks up on the evening of North by Northwest‘s red carpet premiere, telling the story of how 60-year old Hitch (Anthony Hopkins) stepped outside his ‘comfort zone’ by adapting author Robert Bloch’s then little-known novel Psycho. Director Sacha Gervasi’s biopic also examines the relationship between Hitch and his loyal wife/collaborator Alma Reville (Helen Mirren) in the context of their time making a movie based on Bloch’s book – which would go on to be regarded as a suspense/horror masterpiece

Hitchcock stands apart from your average memoir about a Hollywood icon (ex. My Week With Marilyn) with regard to how it imitates the mise-en-scène of Hitch’s Technicolor pictures. Moreover, Gervasi’s biopic is book-ended by amusing scenes where Hopkins recreates Hitch’s cheeky opening and closing remarks as the host on the Alfred Hitchcock Presents TV show. While that helps to elevate the movie to become a clever and respectful salute to its subject’s craft, Hitchcock never quite manages to rise above feeling like a kitschy love letter.

That’s in part because such elements as the direction from Gervasi and Bernard Herrmann-esque score composed by Danny Elfman work as a spirited imitation of their inspiration; unfortunately, other elements like the cluttered script from John J. McLaughlin (Black Swan) – more on that in a moment – and somewhat uneven cinematography from Oscar-nominee Jeff Cronenweth (The Social Network) are less impressive. Nonetheless, Hitchcock as a whole boasts enough style to work as a fun homage – especially for cinephiles and (for lack of a better term) film nerds who’ll catch all the references and Easter Eggs.

anthony hopkins hitchcock Hitchcock Review

Anthony Hopkins as ‘Hitchcock’

McLaughlin’s screenplay unfolds as a by-the-numbers (but still generally engaging) memoir during its first and third act, highlighting the more interesting anecdotes from the real-life story about Hitch and Alma’s struggle to make Psycho. However, the second act shifts its focus to a subplot where Alma collaborates with a two-bit writer named Whitfield Cook (Danny Huston), who may not have noble intentions. This segment is cleverly designed to unfold as a ‘realistic’ version of a Hitchcockian tale of suspense, but it also contributes to the over-arching narrative feeling a bit episodic.

Similarly, the dream/hallucination sequences where Hitch interacts with Ed Gein (Michael Wincott) – the loose-inspiration for Psycho‘s Norman Bates - do recall the type of symbolism-laced psychological drama often present in the filmmaker’s art. Some mirror Hitch’s state of mind at any given moment in the story, while others illustrate how he could’ve been able to empathize with (perhaps even understand) Gein/Bates. Unfortunately, these scenes in general do not offer any more insight into the inner-workings of the director beyond what’s already been made apparent on the surface (or addressed through dialogue).

Hence, there are times where Hitchcock unfolds in a clunky manner, as a result of the focus meandering too far in different directions (one being the story about the making of Psycho, the other being about Hitch and his marriage). These threads end up tying together at times, but usually in either a heavy-handed fashion – like when Hitch acts out his inner-rage while shooting Psycho‘s famous shower scene - or a manner that doesn’t have much significance. Thus, Hitchcock ends up falling somewhere between a satisfying memoir and touching love story – but fails to be both, contrary to its aspirations.

hitchcock hopkins wincott Hitchcock Review

Anthony Hopkins and Michael Wincott in ‘Hitchcock’

Not surprisingly, the performances from Hopkins and Mirren are strong enough to carry Hitchcock on through the rough patches. The role of Hitch plays to Hopkins’ strengths; as such, the Oscar-winner captures the director’s well-documented droll wit, while also expressing a number of complex emotions and digging deep enough to bring out the flawed human side of the legend (even as he acts beneath a layer of seamless, if not always natural in appearance, makeup). Mirren likewise brings a fiery spunk and spirit to Alma; the scenes between she and Hopkins are also the film’s best (be they casual, funny, or intense in tone).

The supporting cast is likewise quite solid. Scarlett Johansson and Jessica Biel play two very different Hitchcock muses (Psycho starlet Janet Leigh and almost-Vertigo headliner Vera Miles); each actress handles their character’s simple, but clean, arc well enough. Meanwhile, Huston (Magic City) as Cook, Toni Collette (United States of Tara) as Hitch’s secretary Peggy Robertson and Michael Stuhlbarg (Boardwalk Empire) as the director’s agent, Lew Wasserman, make good use of their limited screen time.

The only performances that feel off and out of place are those from Ralph Macchio (The Karate Kid) – as Psycho screenwriter Joe Stefano – and James D’Arcy (Cloud Atlas) as Anthony Perkins. To be fair, though, that’s mostly because the pair are just onscreen for too short a time to come off as much more than a collection of tics (rather than genuine, if somewhat odd, people).

hitchcock hopkins mirren johansson Hitchcock Review

Johansson, Hopkins, and Mirren in ‘Hitchcock’

So, overall, Hitchcock gets points for being more ambitious than your average tried-and-true Hollywood memoir – even if it’s only moderately successful in that task, despite Hopkins and Mirren’s best efforts. Their performances are indeed the sort of Oscar bait that could gain recognition during awards season; that they also succeed in making Hitchcock worth checking out is more important, though.

On that note: the film should be entertaining for die-hard Hitchcock fans, as well as moviegoers who are casually familiar with his cinema. However, complete novices to Hitch’s art should not begin here – as it assumes that the audience is familiar with both Psycho‘s significance and the director’s greater place in cinema history.

Here is the official trailer for Hitchcock:

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Hitchcock is now in limited release around the U.S., but will expand to more theaters over the forthcoming weeks. It is Rated PG-13 for some violent images, sexual content and thematic material.

Our Rating:

3 out of 5
(Good)

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TAGS: alfred hitchcock, Hitchcock

19 Comments

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  1. i doubt i would pay theater prices to see this, but it does look interesting. def a rental for sure. the last line in the trailer was great!

  2. hey anything with scarjo in it, it’s worth the price of admission
    (imho)

  3. I always thought there was a story behind the weird guy who introduced Alfred Hitchcock Presents but this doesn’t seem to be it. And why is Anthony Hopkins so highly regarded beside the *first* performance he gave as Hannibal Lecter? ‘Thor’? ‘Titus’? (okay, that was pretty good) ‘Magic’? (evil ventriloquist dummy is more Serling than Hitch)
    Well, his work speaks for him. Beyond that, what do we really need to know? This reminds me of the Peter Sellers bio with Geoffrey Rush. Eh…

    • I thought Hopkins was outstanding in Nixon, JV. How about The Remains Of The Day, Shadowlands, The Elephant Man, The Bounty, 84 Charing Cross Road, or Surviving Picasso?

      This seems more a snapshot of a specific short period than any kind of attempt at a biopic (in which case the title is slightly disingenuous); I know what you mean about the Sellers movie though: amazing performance by Rush, but the film itself tried to be so many things it ended up a strangely empty experience.

      • Yeah, there are definite similarities between The Life & Death of Peter Sellers and Hitchcock, in terms of how (stylistically) they pay homage to their subject’s film work. I’d say the big difference is that the Sellers film is a full-blown (but admittedly kind of hollow) biopic – whereas Hitchcock only ends up being part-memoir about the making of Psycho, because of all the attention focused on the Hitch/Alma marital strife storyline.

        • That’s like what I’ve read about Spielberg’s Lincoln, that it tells its story through a late era in its subject’s life. Is this The New Approach for this type of story then? Maybe only The Current One…

        • The other film that comes to mind that someone mentioned on another thread is My Week With Marilyn. I gave that a miss in the end as I’d already seen the documentary The Prince, The Showgirl And Me, which had a brilliantly-dramatized reading directly from Colin Clark’s diary over archive footage and stills. The evocation of the period, the place, and the characters of Olivier, Monroe, Arthur Miller, Paula Strasberg and Clark himself was so well-done I thought the actual movie would be something of a let-down after that. Maybe I’m doing it a disservice, but it sounded similar to your point about Hitchcock being part-memoir because of the limited focus.

      • I’m not saying he isn’t talented, though he has been overrated. I enjoyed those performances, particularly his work in The Elephant Man and Shadowlands, but -funny you should mention it- to me a run on The Bounty has the same feeling of a loaded set up as this Hitchcock movie. Maybe it wasn’t as exploitive because it was a smaller movie that didn’t lose sight of its goals just to please crowds, but both roles are like practical jokes played on the actor, where legacies dwarf his efforts before he even starts working on them.
        Now a scene with Tobe Hooper channeling Ed Gein into Leatherface, on the other hand; that just BLEEDS indie integrity ;)

        • That’s a really interesting point about a “loaded” role possibly overshadowing the efforts of an actor, but I think the difference between Hitchcock and Bligh is that the former’s familiarity comes from his own fastidiously-maintained public image, whereas the latter most people only know several stages removed: Charles Laughton-type monster or Trevor Howard-type sadist. I found Hopkins’s take on Bligh unexpectedly complex and sympathetic. Well-written too.

          Tobe Hooper channelling Ed Gein: now that I’d like to see!

          • Hopkins was great in that one but you’re forgetting the best Bligh: Bugs Bunny.

            • Lol!

  4. Feels more like a TV Movie to me !

  5. Great review, Sandy. There’s still no date for a UK release as yet, which seems odd.

    • I really don’t understand how release dates work these days, in Britain we used to be really behind the US now it seems we are always ahead with most things, Killing Them Softly was out ages ago here and is only just getting a new trailer over there, what the dickens is going on?!

      • Yeah, it’s beyond me how some of them work out. A movie like Killing Them Softly you’d imagine would be seen as quintessentially American and be released as such. Mind you, Dominik’s Jesse James bombed, so that might be down to caution – plus I read somewhere that it was pushed back to avoid having to compete with The Master. Some of the decisions behind the lack of promotion and limited release of certain movies is just bizarre as well. I’m still gutted about how Dredd seemed to have been totally mishandled in the States. There’s a self-fulfilling prophecy of box office doom if ever there was one.

        • *are* just bizarre

          • Yeah I agree, to be fair Dredd had a lot to live up to and a lot to put behind it, plus with it being a British comic it may not have the following it has over here, which is why they threw Stallone at it the first time around!

            Movies like The Avengers and The Dark Knight tho you would think we’re made for a US audience and yet they were still released elsewhere first, Mel Gibsons last movie ‘Get the Gringo’ or ‘How I spent my summer vacation’ also had a theatrical release here and did fairly well, crazy Hollywood

  6. Another problem I think with this movie is it’s screenwriter. I don’t think he’s know how to write a good story. Look at his previous work.

  7. I did a google and this came up: Hitchcock ‘Was a Monster’: Tippi Hedren and New HBO Film Reveal Hitch’s Dark Side

    Did this movie deal with this at all??? From what I have read, Hitchcock had an awful childhood, and ended up being sexually abusive.

    This reminds me of the documentary of Woody Allen-I suppose that in order to get him to agree to inteviews etc. they had to ‘ignore’ his peodophillia-I dunno….but certainly makes me uncomfortable. For had an ordinary person with a normal life and income done these same things, and they came to light, the reaction would be quite different.

    Or God forbid a POOR person or homeless one…

    Anyway, the movie might be interesting, I often like to watch Anthony Hopkins. Thought he was very good in the Elephant Man and Magic, Remains of the Day etc. He doesn’t always put in a great performance I suppose, but still he is interesting to watch.