Thursday, December 27, 2012


 3.5 / 5 

Hitchcock is a delightful little surprise, a movie in love with movies. It may seem of scant interest to anyone not already intrigued by the legendary director, and probably will be, but it's got such deliciously well-rounded performances that even the Hitchcock ignorant will walk away entertained.

While it sheds no new light on Alfred Hitchcock, who basically psychoanalyzed himself in a series of interviews with Francois Truffaut, Hitchcock splendidly captures both the macabre humor and creative ambitions of a man whose artistic influence is still felt today.

It also has one of the single best monologues in years -- a raging, anguished chastisement of Hitchcock's famously controlling nature by his wife, played by Helen Mirren, an actress who looks nothing like Alma Reville but captures the frustration and pride of someone who's an artist in her own right but has accustomed herself to retreating into the shadow of her more famous spouse.

They don't have a traditional marriage, Alma and Hitch: They sleep in separate beds and seem more like good friends than husband and wife, but the setup worked well enough to keep them together for more than 50 years.

It's almost a trope to praise Mirren's abilities, but in Hitchcock she plays a character underwritten on the page and brings her to vivid life with a cock of the head or a purse of the lips.  She disapproves of her husband, but understands him intimately, accepts his limitations as a human and revels in his successes as a filmmaker -- and, boy, does she let him have it when he dares to accuse her of infidelity.  She's the heart of Hitchcock, though Anthony Hopkins isn't exactly forgettable.

He has the unenviable task of finding the person behind the persona, and he clinches it -- Hitchcock is about a real, nuanced man, not a caricature, and Hopkins transcends the makeup and the fat suit.  His Hitch wavers between having too much confidence and too little, recognizes his shortcomings, and figures he's too invested in his career, his marriage and the idea of making one particular film to give up on any of them.

Like Lincoln, Hitchcock focuses not on the entire life story of its subject but on one critical moment, in this case Hitchcock's decision to follow up the big-budget hit North by Northwest with the unprecedented violence and unsavory themes of Psycho -- a movie that apparently no one wanted him to make. But the more they denied him, the more determined he became, and when he finally gets to see the movie unspool before an audience, his exuberance is unabashed and infectious.  (Hitchcock said he liked to play his audience like a piano; it's fun to see that come to life here.)

Unlike that historical epic, though, Hitchcock actually explores the man, his actions and his motives, maybe not entirely successfully, but thoughtfully and with glee.  Hitchcock does assume we know a bit about the man, his movies and his frequent, failed romantic obsessions, and to that degree, it's a fair criticism to wonder if it's not simultaneously too broad for its detail-oriented core audience of Hitchcock buffs and too specific to be accessible to the mainstream.

Hitchcock also threatens to derail itself with a bizarre attempt to make real-life mass murderer Ed Gein (the inspiration for Norman Bates) into a sort of psychological stand-in for Hitchcock himself.  The fantasy scenes between the two of them don't work at all, but at least the filmmakers tried something different.

Most importantly, Hitchcock is made with genuine passion and admiration, and it's also magnificently cast.  Scarlett Johansson adds a head-turning supporting role as Janet Leigh -- in both physical appearance and in her manner (Leigh was one of the few actresses who spoke highly of her experience with Hitchcock), she's graceful and intelligent.  At Anthony Perkins, James D'Arcy is winningly dim -- everyone knows he's a closet homosexual except, it appears, him, and a scene with Hitchcock and Leigh patiently trying to explain to Perkins why Norman Bates might want to spy on naked women is priceless.  Also fine is Jessica Biel as Vera Miles, an actress spurned by Hitchcock and who's desperately unhappy making Psycho.  Toni Collette, alas, is mostly wasted as Peggy Robertson, Hitchcock's longtime assistant.

But Hopkins and especially Mirren are the stars. They command the screen and offer vivid reminders why -- even in a little trifle as relatively lightweight as Hitchcock -- there are hardly finer actors working today.  It's not a weighty or "important" movie, but Hitchcock knows how to keep its audience entertained almost as well as the Master himself.

Viewed 12/27/12 -- Laemmle North Hollywood


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