Sunday, March 10, 2013

Review: Hitchcock

During my undergrad days at Brandeis, I took a course that focused on Hitchcock’s filmography.  Most enrolled in this class because they thought it was a lay up; I took it because I love movies.  For the next three months I had the pleasure of watching more than fourteen of his films and delving into a series of interviews conducted between Francois Truffaut and Hitchcock himself.  After twelve weeks and three term papers, I came away with an appreciation for the master of suspense, so it was with a curious eye that I watched Hitchcock starring Sir Anthony Hopkins.

The plot of the film finds Hitchcock some thirty plus years into his career searching for his next great endeavor.  When he comes upon Psycho, a gruesome novel about a trouble young man, he decides that it should be the basis of his next film.  Unfortunately, the esteemed director has trouble getting studio backing, thus the plot of the film focuses on his endeavors to finance, produce, and direct the controversial project himself.

I liked the film, but I readily admit that it’s not for everyone.  A movie about making a movie doesn’t exactly scream, “Must see!”  So if you have never had an interest in Hitchcock, his movie Psycho, or gaining a small window into the history of movie making this film is not going to do much for you.  Let me be clear though in this one regard, Hitchcock (the movie) isn’t a biopic or a documentary-style film, but instead a clear dramatization of real life events that at times panders to the lowest common denominator in regards to Hitchcockian associations.  Even still, director Sacha Gervasi spins a decent yarn about the man’s efforts to bring the violent offbeat story of Norman Bates to life.

What elevates this movie above others of this ilk (i.e. Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story) is the work of Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren as Hitchcock and his wife Alma Reville respectively.  Their attention to detail, their chemistry as a couple, and the way they cultivate the flaws in their respective characters makes this film an interesting character piece.  That you can at times forget you are watching a story about an iconic director and instead focus on the nature of the relationship between a husband and wife is a credit to their crafts.

Also in the plus column is Scarlett Johansson.  I love Scarlett Johansson, but that doesn’t mean I think she is a good actress.  The last time I thought she was really extraordinary onscreen was way back when in Lost in Translation.  While her work as Janet Leigh is nowhere near that stratosphere, she does a nice job with the character.  Likewise for Toni Collette who absolutely disappears into the role of Peggy Robertson – Hitchcock’s production assistant.  In a lot of ways, this movie is about the women in Hitchcock’s life and Collette does a great job of making her character feel important.

Unfortunately, it’s not all pluses across the board in the acting department as Jessica Biel continues her unimpressive run of underwhelming performances.  Looking both pouty and sleepy at the same time seems to be one of her go to acting moves, but she has yet to realize that it simply does not work.  As Vera Miles, she fails to add anything to the narrative besides apathy.  Danny Huston also turns in a pedestrian performance as Hitchcock’s antagonist, but more than anything he seems like a walking cliché straight out of a bad episode of Mad Men.

The best way then to frame a movie like Hitchcock is to think of it as the gambling equivalent of a pick ‘em.  Is it good movie?  Sure.  Is it well acted?  For the most part.  Will you like it?  Maybe not so much, depending on your sensibility.  The premise is niche and the pace is slow and this will be a major turn off for most.  If however, you are a fan of cinema of Hitchcock himself, I would recommend giving this one a look.  There are no big reveals or stand out moments, but it is well acted and films with good acting have been in incredibly short supply lately.

Standout Performance: Helen Mirren.   She does a great of delivering a nuanced performance as Alma, who represents the heart of the film. 


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