Sunday, April 21, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—Hitchcock (2012) ***

PG-13, 98 min.
Director: Sacha Gervasi
Writers: John J. McLaughlin, Stephen Rebello (novel)
Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Scarlett Johansson, Danny Huston, Toni Collette, Jessica Biel, Michael Stuhlbarg, Michael Wincott, James D’Arcy, Richard Portnow, Kurtwood Smith, Ralph Macchio

“Hitchcock” isn’t a tribute to the master of suspense so much as it is a look behind the curtain. It looks at the making of arguably his most controversial picture and one of his most financially successful, “Psycho”. The thing is, nobody wanted to make it, even though it was Hitchcock. It’s really not so surprising, considering the unconventional nature of the plot. It was based on a real life serial killer, Ed Gein, whose crimes were particularly heinous for that time. The movie’s heroine is killed off before the halfway point. And frankly, it wasn’t crowd-pleasing material, like Hitch’s previous film “North By Northwest”. Yes, even 50 years ago Hollywood preferred repeating itself to producing new material.

The problem with any performance of such an iconic person as Alfred Hitchcock is that it’s nearly impossible for the performer not to succumb to impersonation. Hitchcock was a very public figure as a Hollywood director. Rising in popularity before the auteur movement in the 70s, Hitch was one of the first directors that could fill seats on his name alone, without any big name stars in his movie. He also appeared in all of his movies in one way or another, and his television show “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” was airing at the time “Psycho” was filmed.

Anthony Hopkins does about as good a job as anyone could in playing the public persona of Hitch, but even such a master really only pulls off an impersonation much of the time. It’s in the private moments that Hopkins gets to shed the skin of Hitch and actually perform. Helen Mirren has the better role here as Hitch’s wife Alma Reville, who stayed with Hitch his entire career as his confidant, business partner, and often-jilted lover. Hitch’s obsessions with his leading ladies must’ve been hard on her. But she was his strength, his anchor. That is what this film is mostly about. How interesting that after all these years, long after both have left us, Alma is finally getting her due.

The film is a little bit more typical of a bio picture than Hitch himself might’ve produced. The story of a maverick fighting against the machine of his particular field is hardly original material. Hitch himself didn’t even like repeating himself, let alone others. But, it is interesting, with good leading performances and a great supporting cast, with such big names as Scarlet Johansson and Jessica Biel portraying Hitch’s objects of obsession. 

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