Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Hitchcock (Review)

Director: Sacha Gervasi

Company: The Montecito Picture Company, Cold Spring Pictures, Fox Searchlight Pictures

Year: 2012

Country: USA

Despite the talent involved, this biopic proves to be a mixed bag.

Perhaps no other 20th century filmmaker is as well known as Alferd Hitchcock. Often dubbed 'the master of suspense' Hitchcock is remembered for using twist endings and various macguffins as plot devices. His filmography, spanning from 1925 to 1976, includes Rebecca (1940), Rear Window (1954), Vertigo (1958), and of course, Psycho (1960). Given how famous Alferd Hitchcock is it is not surprising that he would be chosen as the subject of a biographical movie (Indeed, the same year another film about Hitchcock, The Girl, was released by HBO and BBC.) I am sorry to say, however, that there are far better biopics out there than this one.

Director Sacha Gervasi focuses on the filming of Psycho and its troubled production. While narrowing the scope of a film can be beneficial in some cases. Hitchcock's plot feels a bit over stretched. The film opens with Alferd Hitchcock being congratulated for the success of his North by Northwest. However, Hitchcock is concerned that many of his peers are suggesting that he should retire. Not to be deterred, Hitchcock chooses to adapt something rather unsettling and unorthodox in order to prove them wrong. The book is Psycho, a horror novel based upon the crimes of serial killer Ed Gein. The project is an ambitious one, and puts tremendous strain on Hitchcock's already rocky relationship with his wife, Alma Reville. On top of this, Hitchcock must also try to get his controversial film approved by the Motion Picture Production Code, and deal with his own stress related vices (i.e. binge eating, flirting with other women).

Hitchcock the workaholic.

The movie's biggest flaw is that it does not tell us anything that we haven't already heard before. It feels half baked. Hitchcock's intended audience is likely not the casual movie goer, but rather avid film buffs and movie historians. However, Hitchcock spends most of its time explaining minute details, such as the lay out of sets, to fill up spare time. Perhaps, the film would have worked better if it were to encompass more of Alfred Hitchcock's career rather than just the filming of Psycho. Better yet, Hitchcock could have focused more on how the cast's relationships with one another and their obsessive director affected the overall direction of Psycho. Everyone gets some screen time, but a lot of it feels superficial. Certain scenes simply seem to drag on for too long. Other sequences, like Hitchcock's imaginary conversations with Ed Gein, are interesting but are tied into the plot clumsily, disrupting its narrative flow.

Sacha Gervasi took great lengths to recreate Psycho's sets, but didn't spend much time fleshing out all of Hitchcock's characters.

On the plus side, Hitchcock's acting is quite good. Its cast includes Scarlett Johansson as Janet Leigh (who sadly does not get enough screen time to fully develop her role), and Danny Huston as Whitfield Cook (a writer who tries to persuade Alma Reville to have an extra-material affair). Anthony Hopkin's role as Alfred Hitchcock and Helen Mirren's portrayal of Alma Reville are the best of the lot, which is fortunate since their presence practically holds this film together. The two have many great conversations together, often laden with wit, affectionate banter, and biting irony. Their realistic acting makes Hitchcock's and Mirren's marriage very relatable. Hitchcock and Mirren barely manage to hang onto their marriage, before they realize that they do, in fact, actually need each other.

Anthony Hopkin's and Helen Mirren's performances manage to make this film more enjoyable than it should be.

While not an awful film, Hitchcock is a rather disappointing attempt to explain the history behind one of cinema's most influential movies. The film simply drags on too long. Its focus is not were it should be all of the time, and it lacks insight. The acting is enough to save Hitchcock from being a complete waste of time, but it's not one that I will be pulling off the shelf very often.

Admit it, The Birds reference at the end was kind of clever.

Rating: 3/5