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Hitchcock (2012)

Posted on the 06 January 2016 by Christopher Saunders
Hitchcock (2012)Since Alfred Hitchcock is among the few classic directors still a household name, a biopic was inevitable. But did it have to be Hitchcock (2012)? Sacha Gervasi's seriocomic account of the making of Psycho misfires, often inaccurate and infrequently entertaining.
It's 1960 and Alfred Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins) seems bored with his career. North by Northwest was a major hit, but Hitchcock wants more challenging material. He reads Robert Bloch's Psycho and decides to adapt it, despite Paramount's opposition. Hitchcock engages with the novel's antihero, Norman Bates, to the chagrin of his wife Alma Reville (Helen Mirren). She wonders if Hitchcock's allowing Bloch's psychosis to his own demons.
Hitchcock faces one insuperable problem: while Psycho was groundbreaking in its violence and psychosexual portraiture, it wasn't an especially arduous production. Hitchcock finances the movie himself and battles censorial fuddy-duddies, and there's amusement in his desperation to preserve the twist ending, swearing the cast to secrecy and buying up Bloch's book. Still, Gervasi and screenwriter John J. McLaughlin, working off a nonfiction book by Stephen Rebello, enliven things with questionable dramatizations.
Hitchcock (2012)Hitchcock's distortions range from forgivable to inexplicable. Hitchcock's battles with distributor Paramount are detailed, but it's nowhere mentioned that he shot the movie at Universal. There's also Alma stepping into the director's chair when Hitchcock becomes sick and overseeing the editing. It's nice to acknowledge Alma as Hitchcock's partner; she helped write and edit his scripts for decades, becoming an indispensable collaborator. But Hitchcock overbalances the ledger; what would John L. Russell and George Tomassini say?
While making Alma Hitch's equal, Gervasi also has her resist Whitfield Cook (Danny Huston), writer and (unmentioned here) occasional Hitchcock collaborator. This subplot's merely unnecessary, unlike Hitchcock's most bizarre conceit. Hitchcock's visited by the ghost of Ed Gein (Michael Wincott), the real-life Norman Bates, in several ridiculous sequences. This ill-conceived device disconnects themes from story, spotlighting Hitchcock's biggest flaw.
Since Donald Spoto's The Dark Side of Genius, writers love equating Hitchcock's films with his real-world hang-ups. Whether Hitchcock was a gentlemanly genius or manipulative closet psychopath depends on whether you asked Grace Kelly or Tippi Hedren. Hitchcock acknowledges his foibles: he leers at starlets and keeps portraits of his "Hitchcock blondes" while neglecting Alma. Gervasi curiously treats this as charming rather than creepy, Hitchcock a playful eccentric, presenting perversion without committing to it.
Hitchcock (2012)Following Rebello, Hitchcock claims that he sabotaged Vera Miles' (Jessica Biel) career after declining Vertigo. Hitchcock also badgers Janet Leigh (Scarlett Johansson) with smutty ranting and a simulated knife attack, driving her to hysteria. This projects Tippi Hedren's claims of abuse onto Leigh, with whom Hitchcock had an amiable relationship. Fair that a biopic explore this, but why Psycho? Surely Vertigo or Marnie are more fitting? Then again, HBO's The Girl tackled the latter and fared even worse.
Anthony Hopkins makes Hitch a glib cockney gargoyle, unrecognizable under mountains of makeup. In fairness, Hopkins captures Hitchcock's morbid humor: he distributes articles on Gein to party guests and invites a timorous censor (Kurtwood Smith) to direct a love scene. On the other hand, Hopkins suggests little of Hitchcock's charm, genius or skill, instead seeming a constipated ghoul more pitiable than engaging.
Hitchcock (2012)Helen Mirren's tart wit and innate intelligence enlivens her inconsistent character. We respect her skill and unyielding tolerance for Hitchcock while questioning her judgment. Scarlett Johansson makes a pitch-perfect Janet Leigh, but Jessica Biel neither resembles nor invokes Vera Miles. James D'Arcy's dead-on Anthony Perkins is completely wasted. Danny Huston, Michael Stuhlbarg, Toni Collete and Kurtwood Smith play peripheral roles.
One could ignore Hitchcock's factual infelicities if it had more to offer. Despite some snappy dialog and a few clever scenes (Hitchcock conducting his audience's screams), it's mostly inert. In any case, film buffs are the primary audience and who better to appreciate its inaccuracies?

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