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Hitchcock (2012)

August 12, 2013

hitchcockposter

 

written by:  John J. McLaughlin

produced by: Ivan Reitman, Tom Pollock, Joe Medjuck, Alan Barnette & Tom Thayer

directed by: Sacha Gervasi

rating: PG-13 (for some violent images, sexual content and thematic material) 

runtime:  98 min. 

U.S. release date: November 23, 2012 (limited) and December 14, 2012 (wide)

DVD/Blu-ray release date:  March 12, 2013

 

A movie about the making of a movie? Yeah, that doesn’t necessarily sound that interesting. Oh, it’s about all-time great director Alfred Hitchcock  and one of his most respected classics? Okay, I’m a little more interested now. I was curious but skeptical going in, but I ended up liking “Hitchcock” a whole lot.

It is 1959 and highly respected Alfred Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins) is coming off one of his best movies in terms of critical acclaim and audience success, “North by Northwest”. He’s thrown for a loop when a reporter asks if he’s going to retire now that’s he 60 years old. Hitchcock vows his next film will be his best, a unique, doozy of a flick that audiences have never seen the likes of before. He finds his source in a novel called Psycho, a story loosely based on a real-life murderer. The subject matter is highly controversial, especially for a 1960 audience, and he struggles from the get-go to get the backing to produce his movie. Instead, he and his wife, Alma Reville (Helen Mirren), fund the movie themselves, putting their own money up as backing. Casting, the actual filming, the studio, the censors – all will prove difficult in getting his film made, but it’s also threatening to tear up his longtime marriage and partnership with Reville.

Released in 1960, “Psycho” was a film that earned lukewarm reviews but rabid audiences ate it up and helped it take off. It earned four Oscar nominations – including Hitchcock for director, Janet Leigh for supporting actress – and quickly became a classic with a story and style that helped rewrite the thriller/horror genre. While it’s remembered as a classic now, it had a checkered production as Hitchcock struggled to get backing (studio head played by Richard Portnow) while also doing battle with the censors (one played by Kurtwood Smith) to make the movie that he wanted to make. From the infamous shower scene to the on-screen depiction of violence and sex, it is a gem of a film.

 

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Enough with background though. Is a movie about a movie interesting? Sometimes stories based on facts like this can play like reading an encyclopedia, but this one is interesting from the first scene right to the end.

I know there’s a lot of great acting performances out there, but I’m genuinely surprised Hopkins did not earn a Best Actor nomination. He certainly deserved it. For one, he’s almost unrecognizable as the famous English director. Looks are just one aspect of the performance, one that isn’t a do or die element. What’s more important is that Hopkins becomes Hitchcock. The speech patterns, the personal, little mannerisms like holding his suit, pursing his lips, it all adds up to bring the puzzle pieces together. When Hopkins is on-screen, you can’t take your eyes away from him. It also isn’t a hero pic, portraying the director as he was, an incredibly talented if mercurial director who had tendencies that drove people up a wall at times. On the other hand, he was so talented those people had to put up with him at times.

The movie is significantly better for it. While it is about the making of “Psycho”, it’s moreso about how the making of “Psycho” affected Hitchcock’s marriage to Reville, played to perfection by Mirren. While filming, Hitchcock had his quirks. He was always searching for that perfect platinum blonde (Kim Novak, Janet Leigh or Tippi Hedren), sometimes at the expense of paying his wife any attention at all, something that plays out as she works with smooth-talking screenwriter Whitfield Cook (Danny Huston). Neither Hitch (he at one points says “Hitch….never mind the cock”) nor Alma is below playing some head games, testing their marriage when the pressure of making their movie successful is already wearing on them. We see Hitchcock in all his glory and flaws – holding grudges, being a peeping tom among others – but it adds to the movie, making it more than just a documentary. Hopkins and Mirren are two pros at the top of their games, great lead performances.

 

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Working with director Sacha Gervasi is a very talented supporting cast beyond his two stars. I was worried some because the actors are playing….well, actors, of whom much of the audience will be familiar with.  Scarlett Johansson is excellent playing Janet Leigh, the star of Psycho who bonds quickly with Hitchcock during filming, Jessica Biel also solid as “Psycho” co-star Vera Miles. Toni Collette is great too as Peggy Robertson, Hitch’s much-maligned assistant who is nonetheless someone the director counts on in a big way. Michael Stuhlbarg is very good as Lew Wasserman, Hitch’s agent trying to help him through the troubled production. Michael Wincott is perfectly creepy as Ed Gein, the real-life inspiration for the Norman Bates character, James D’Arcy, playing Anthony Perkins. In a cool storytelling device, Gein actually “talks” to Hitchcock, apparently giving the director inspiration in bringing his movie together.

I liked this movie. Good style, solid characterization and an inside look at a classic film. I loved the bookend storytelling too, Hitchcock actually talking to the audience much like he did in his “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” TV show. It’s on-screen narration that works very well, setting things up perfectly. In a cool visual with the narration, the final scene gives a hint to Hitchcock’s next film, another classic remembered fondly with “Psycho”. Just a good solid film overall, most memorable for Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren.

 

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RATING: ***

 

 

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