Sunday, December 23, 2012

Movie Review: "Hitchcock"

It's amazing when you think of today's movies, dominated by the undead, monsters, Satan's spawn, and weapon-wielding maniacs, in Alfred Hitchcock's heyday, he could terrify moviegoers with psychological horror or the fright of discovering the normal-seeming person you encounter is, well, psycho.

The master of suspense himself (played by Anthony Hopkins), and his battle to make Psycho in 1960, is at the crux of Sacha Gervasi's first film, Hitchcock. Desperate for an inspiration for his next movie, he stumbles upon Anthony Bloch's novel, Psycho, and decides that instead of the psychological terror of his films like Vertigo and North by Northwest, he'll use actual violence and horror this time, much to the dismay of his steadfast wife and collaborator, Alma Reville (the always amazing Helen Mirren). Alma would rather Hitch consider filming the screenplay of Whitfield Cook (Danny Huston), who pays Alma the attention she is lacking.

Everyone is dead set against Hitchcock making this film, including the censors, but he puts up his own money and doggedly pushes forward, casting the ethereal Janet Leigh (Scarlett Johansson) as woman-with-a-secret Marion, and the timid, fey Tony Perkins (James D'Arcy) as the infamous Norman Bates. As he usually does, Hitch becomes obsessed with his leading lady as the embodiment of his fantasies, to the chagrin of his wife, and the seen-it-before cynicism of Vera Miles (Jessica Biel), who was once his chosen one until she passed on movie stardom to raise a family.

As the battle to create the movie he wants presses on him financially and emotionally, and Alma becomes more distant, Hitch pushes harder and harder and starts finding himself envisioning serial killer Ed Gein (Michael Wincott), whose exploits inspired Bloch to write his novel.

Will Alma come to Hitch's rescue and help him finish the movie the way he wants? Will the studio be satisfied with the final product? And how will moviegoers react? If you're familiar with film history, and/or if you've seen any movies, you know the answers to all of those questions. But that fact doesn't quite detract from the slight, sly charm of the film.

Playing the corpulent, obsessive film genius, Hopkins seems to be channeling a little more Hannibal Lecter than Alfred Hitchcock. Although he does a good job balancing his quest for perfection with the emotional trauma he is dealing with, I felt like Hopkins was a little too campy, almost comical at times. Mirren, in a role that will probably net her an Oscar nomination, does a fantastic job with her role, as the woman who may have been more of an influence on the filmmaker Hitchcock became than anyone else, yet few recognize her genius. Johansson is perfectly sunny as Janet Leigh, while Biel has little more to do than glower through most of the film.

I think this movie had the potential to be much more than it turned out to be. The strength of Mirren's performance, and Hopkins' overacting, isn't quite enough to sustain the film, although there are some amusing bits. It might be a good DVD to watch at some point, but if it's still playing in theaters by you, I'd suggest you pick something else.

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