Movie review: Hitchcock


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Hitchcock is a toothless behind-the-scenes-in-Hollywood flick with a Lifetime movie slathered over it. Anthony Hopkins will probably snag a Best Actor Oscar nomination for his starring role as legendary filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock, although too much of his performance consists of him trying to look cryptic and iconic while swallowed by a fat suit and a set of Lee Press-On Jowls. The actor seldom rises above cartoon level - John Goodman was more convincing as Fred Flintstone than Hopkins is as Hitch.

Helen Mirren plays Alma Reville, editor, screenwriter and Hitchcock's wife. She is presented as the woman behind the man, and much attention is given to the supposed rocky parts of their relationship. Basically, she wants her partner to be more attentive and involved, while he eyes her with suspicion, figuring that she may be turning to another. Their story is entertaining only because Helen Mirren is entertaining. Had the film been titled Behind Hitchcock or something more indicative of the its actual direction, the sudsy stuff would have been easier to watch.

The story takes place in 1959-60, following the success of Hitchcock's North by Northwest. Some believed the 60-year-old filmmaker had peaked creatively and was on his way down. Then Hitchcock set out to make a film based on Robert Bloch's novel Psycho. The studio refused to finance the grisly-sounding production, so Hitchcock put up his own money and set off to reassert his relevance, creating an experimental corker that sent modern horror filmmaking off in a whole new direction.

Isn't that interesting? Does that sound like the kind of story that needs a tacked-on soap opera?

The film's legendary shower scene and the daring lead character shift receive plenty of attention, but why does Psycho hold up on repeat viewings? You'll get no clue in this cinematic wading pool and don't you think you should, given that the film is largely based on Stephen Rebello's book Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho?

The public persona of Hitchcock was that of an impishly macabre trickster, a lovable character who would fit right in with the Addams family. Reports of Hitchcock the man indicate a creepier fellow with major problems in the female department. While the film offers enough peepshow glimpses to establish Hitchcock's ick factor, he mostly remains a cypher.

The supporting cast includes Scarlett Johansson as Janet Leigh, Jessica Biel as Vera Miles, James D'Arcy as jittery Anthony Perkins, Danny Huston as screenwriter Whitfield Cook and Toni Collette as Hitchcock's assistant. They're all fine. I'd offer more details, but my attention was diverted by Hopkins' performance and the floundering story structure.

Instead of insight, director Sacha Gervasi (maker of the fine documentary Anvil! The Story of Anvil) and screenwriter John J. McLaughlin offer half-baked scenes of Hitchcock encountering the spirit of Ed Gein (Michael Wincott), the serial killer that inspired the novel (and later the Leatherface character in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre).

As an insider's look at the making of a classic, Hitchcock offers the most obvious information. There is, however, a great scene of Hitchcock standing outside the door of a screening of Psycho, "conducting" the screaming audience. The moment is big, bold and stirring. Wish there'd been more like that.

I'm not sure of the intended audience for this movie. Too anemic for Hitchcock buffs, it may be aimed at mainstream viewers that know the director primarily by reputation. If so, I'd advise that audience to better serve their time by passing on the production and watching a Hitchcock film instead.


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