Monday, 7 January 2013
FILM REVIEW: HITCHCOCK
20th Century Fox Films
"What if it turns out like Vertigo?", Alfred Hitchcock asks his wife, waking from a nightmare. He's talking about his latest project, Psycho, and the director should be so lucky. Or unlucky, as the case may be. Vertigo was a critical and commercial flop upon release in 1958, but in 2012 a poll of international films critics conducted by Sight & Sound magazine declared it the best film of all time.
Psycho would of course go on to be Hitchcock's most commercially successful film but nobody -- not Paramount Studios, colleagues and friends, nor the director himself -- thought so at the time. What seems like a no-brainer today was considered a giant risk in 1959, so much so that Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins) and his wife and collaborator, Alma Reville (Helen Mirren), mortgaged their Hollywood home to finance the black and white horror film, released in 1960.
Hitchcock, directed by Sacha Gervasi and penned by John J. McLaughlin, based on the book 'Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho' by Stephen Rebello, isn't a biopic as such but concerns itself with a roughly 12-month period when the making of Psycho threatened to destroy a director, a reputation and a marriage.
But as heavy as that sounds, Gervasi sets a jaunty tone from the beginning: Alfred Hitchcock, much like he did with his television series, addressing the audience with his customary drollness. Hopkins, sporting prosthetics and a fat suit, may not be a dead ringer for the Master of Suspense but I believed well enough in his portrayal of a man with creative fires and darker desires.
And while Mirren may never be required to shift out of first gear, her role as the woman behind the man -- and whom history knows very little of in spite of her influence on the director's work -- is empathetic as a woman who craves recognition as someone other than the wife of "the great and glorious Alfred Hitchcock", whilst also longing for his emotional attention.
Toni Collette (as Hitchcock's long-time PA, Peggy Robertson), James D'Arcy (a spookily good Anthony Perkins), and Jessica Biel (as actress Vera Miles) skirt around the edges of the frame, but Scarlett Johansson's Janet Leigh registers slightly more strongly.
And that infamous shower scene registers strongly both times Gervasi references it: firstly, the actual shooting of the scene where Hitchcock takes matters into his own hands, and then when the first public audience bears witness to the murder scene that would alter many a person's bathing habits for years to come.
Hitchcock is not a serious study of the man or his methods -- it's essentially a comedy with dramatic elements -- and his legion of fans and serious students of film should look elsewhere if they want a deeper insight into both his creative genius and his psyche.
But like My Week With Marilyn (2011) -- which followed the exploits of the blonde actress over an English summer whilst shooting The Prince and the Showgirl -- Hitchcock provides an entertaining behind-the-scenes, slice of life look at the making of one of the most admired and influential films and its equally loved and influential creator.