Film Review – Hitchcock
If I had to name the three directors most responsible for my love of movies, I would list Alfred Hitchcock, John Carpenter, and Woody Allen. (You can throw in Ernst Lubitsch and Michael Curtiz to round out the top five, if you’d like.) Hitchcock is always at the top. Shadow of a Doubt is probably my favorite, but the film I go back and forth on the most is Psycho. I love it, but that last scene at the end just drives me crazy. I did, however, have the wonderful experience of watching it with my daughter when she was about 15 and had no knowledge of the story’s plot. About a third of the way in, when the person she assumed was the protagonist dies a grisly death, my daughter turned to me and asked “What the freak [not the word she used] kind of movie is this?” An awesome one, Little Bug. Upon watching the new movie Hitchcock, directed by Sacha Gervasi, I asked myself the same question. “What kind of movie is this?” I’m not sure I know the answer to that.
There are three different storylines running through Hitchcock, some more successful than others. The main plot is about the making of Psycho. Hot off the success of North by Northwest, Alfred Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins) is searching for his next movie when he comes across the book Psycho, by Robert Bloch. Loosely based on the actions of serial killer Ed Gein, the story appeals to Hitchcock’s desire to do something completely different, although no one else can fathom what he sees in the source material. Financing the film himself, he chooses to risk his career rather than stagnate artistically.
Subplot number two deals with an imaginary relationship between Hitch and Ed Gein (Michael Wincott), where Hitchcock explores his own psycho-sexual obsessions through their conversations. The third, and most interesting, plot deals with Hitch and his relationship with his wife, Alma Reville (Helen Mirren). She had a career of her own as a film editor when they met, and supported him behind the scenes on all of his films. Their relationship provides the drama for Hitchcock, as they reach a crisis point in their marriage during the filming of Psycho. Alma is tired of dealing with Hitch’s obsessions regarding his leading ladies, and is longing for a little space outside of their marriage for herself. Hitch goes from taking her for granted to being wildly jealous of her relationship with her writing partner. How they resolve this is the heart of the movie.
The relationship subplot is the most successful one, and Helen Mirren is wonderful as the wife of the tortured/obsessive/annoying genius. She has her own identity apart from him, but it takes a certain amount of work on her part to get him to realize it. This story is very interesting and would have made a very successful movie on its own, which is kind of the problem with this film: too many movies crammed into one. The Ed Gein subplot does not work at all and is at odds with the playful tone that pervades much of the rest of the movie. It’s hard to be gently humorous when one is dragging a body into a bathtub. This relationship is meant to elucidate Hitch’s own little oddities (he’s portrayed as a peeping Tom and a controlling creeper), but it’s an obvious device that should have been relegated to subtext. But, there is no subtext here. Anytime something deeper might be happening under the surface, the filmmakers give it its own subplot, which is frustrating as hell and causes the movie to meander.
So, yes, structurally this movie is a mess. But it really is a lot of fun. Anthony Hopkins is pretty decent as Hitch, although there is one moment where he veers into Silence of the Lambs territory, and it is very jarring to hear Hannibal Lector’s voice coming out of Alfred Hitchcock’s mouth. Helen Mirren is by far the best thing about the film, and Scarlett Johansson is great as Janet Leigh. (Her character is fun, smart as a whip, and totally professional—everything I have always wanted Janet Leigh to be in my mind.) Toni Collette also stands out as Hitch’s right-hand lady Peggy Robertson, as does Michael Stuhlbarg as agent Lew Wasserman. Performance-wise, there are no major missteps here, except for maybe Jessica Biel as Vera Miles. She just doesn’t convey any complexity as the woman Hitch originally cast in the Kim Novak role in Vertigo. (She got pregnant before filming and had to drop out. Hitch never forgave her.)
I don’t know what the hell kind of movie this is; it’s all over the place. The light-hearted tone is a mismatch with some of the material, and I often found the soundtrack distracting from the action. But I had a good time nonetheless, and I expect other people will, too. It’s fun and messy, and worth going to see.
Final Grade: B