|Scarlett Johansson is Janet Leigh, Anthony Hopkins is Hitchcock, and Helen Mirren is his wife.|
Hitchcock is a new biopic on the famous director revolved around the making of Psycho which would become his most notorious and successful film. I suppose the notion here, is that the famous horror movie and everything that surrounded its production defines the title character.
It winds up being an incredibly plain and shallow experience of a movie with a People Magazine perspective on his personal life while the theme of his ingenious craft takes the back seat. I felt like I was viewing a TV movie on the big screen -Though it did have a high caliber cast -So let’s say, an HBO–made movie.
Anthony Hopkins plays the bloated well-spoken British caricature famous for his deranged yet dry sense of humor. It’s a performance that captures his public image but attempts to integrate that persona into his private life -which I didn’t buy.
While this movie is about the man, it is also about the woman behind the man. His wife, Alma Reville, is played by Helen Mirren as a woman with cutting determination to support her husband’s projects. This movie makes the case that she was his strongest collaborator and tolerated a lot from him as he lusted after his leading ladies while simultaneously jealous of her time. While she lives a life devoted to managing her husband without much credit, she strives for artistic fulfillment and takes on a writing project with screenwriter Whitfield Cook. Hitch recognizes the potential for an affair between the two, which results in irate outbursts while on the set of his film.
He begins to have violent fantasies and the movie regularly creates pointless fantasy sequences of Hitch conversing with serial killer Ed Gein. Why? Because Psycho was loosely based on the man? Because Hitch sees his inner darkness as being similar to Gein’s? It just comes off as silly superficial filmmaking.
The imposition of the marriage drama and Hitchcock’s dark psychology feel like nothing more than conjecture on the part of this film’s makers and doesn’t prove to be interesting. Screenwriter John J. McLaughlin (Black Swan) may have delivered a screenplay with potential, but the direction of Sacha Gervasi seems to be distracted with making everything feel lush, colorful, and nostalgic rather than real.
I do admire how this is about the making of a movie and the restraint to show any authentic or reenacted footage of that movie. When Psycho is finally premiered, all you see are audience reactions while Hitch hangs out in the lobby amused by the sound of their screams.
Hitch’s personal assistant, Peggy Robertson (Toni Collette) and his agent, destined for Hollywood greatness, Lew Wasserman (Michael Stuhlbarg), are given good screen time. What about his artistic collaborators? Where’s the eccentric costume designer Edith Head? Where’s the angry composer Bernard Herrmann? The legendary title designer Saul Bass is nowhere in this movie nor does his work have an influence on the film’s aesthetics.
This film rightly takes time to demonstrate how Psycho was a risk for the director who was banking on his success to stretch the boundaries of the horror genre and was still met with resistance from Paramount Pictures and the ratings board. Unfortunately the Hollywood politics are laid out in condescending layman’s terms for the benefit of the audience. Don’t expect Aaron Sorkin dialogue here.
Hitch was forced to shoot the movie on a small budget but they don’t seem to display the results of this except for choosing lesser-known stars. A pleasant surprise in this film was how the new stars hired to play stars of the past didn’t look their parts but they seemed to pull it off. Okay, I saw no connection between Jessica Biel and Vera Miles, but Scarlett Johansson actually made a decent Janet Leigh and James D’Arcy made an incredible Anthony Perkins.
I think one of the most remarkable facts that this movie failed to mention was how the forced low-budget led them to shoot Psycho in black and white which had the artistic benefit of filtering the gory imagery the film would display.
The real dissatisfaction I felt was the movie’s preoccupation with celebrity icons, money, desire and scandal. Maybe the great filmmaker himself loved all of those things but if they intended to make a Hitchcock movie about Hitchcock, they should have left the job to Brian De Palma.
Half way through the film, I realized that despite my love for Vertigo, North by Northwest, Rope, Rear Window and my appreciation for many others (Psycho included), I’m only interested in the professional artist behind them. The man? I was never very interested and I walked away from this film even less interested.