Film review: HITCHCOCK, from Built For Speed

Hitchcock, is a prosaic but still engrossing biopic of the legendary director Alfred Hitchcock (played here by Anthony Hopkins).  Based on the critically acclaimed Stephen Rebello book “Alfred Hitchcock and the making of Psycho”, the film doesn’t provide an overview of Hitchcock’s life but instead focuses on a pivotal segment of it, in this case the making of what is arguably Hitchcock’s most famous film, Psycho.

By the late 1950’s Hitchcock was wildly successful and lauded by critics but thought by some to be past his best.  Incensed by these accusations “Hitch” became determined to make a film that would reassert his status as a brave and confronting film-maker.  Psycho, an adaptation of the 1959 Robert Bloch novel which was itself loosely based on the hideous, real life Ed Gein murders, was that film.

Hitchcock explores the way the great director’s fascination with human perversion informed his films.  Psycho, however, was a new frontier for Hitchcock and for Hollywood and a film that forced HItchcock to delve into the dark recesses of his psyche; depicted here through dream sequences in which he consults Ed Gein. In so doing, Hitchcock unearthed personal doubts and insecurities that impacted on his physical and mental health and his relationships with those around him.

In fact, Hitchcock is as much about Hitch’s uneasy relationship with his long-suffering wife Alma (Helen Mirren) as it is about his filmmaking. The film takes a few liberties with history as it suggests that Alma made enormous contributions to his movies as a script editor and even fill-in director but went unrecognised for this work. The film suggests that this, combined with the fact that she was Hitch’s surrogate nurse maid and the fact that she had to endure his fixation with attractive blonde women young enough to be his granddaughter, left Alma angry, unfulfilled and seeking artistic and romantic release elsewhere. Historical liberties aside, Helen Mirren delivers a typically excellent performance as highly talented woman living a life of quiet desperation in the shadow of a superstar.

As Hitchcock, Anthony Hopkins is an entertaining mix of maverick artistic genius, naughty boy and creepy old man. Hopkins doesn’t look a lot like Hitchcock except in his girth and strangely rigid posture but he captures his brilliant eccentric character.  This is, apparently, quite a charitable portrayal of Hitch, though, as he was reportedly more tyrannical than his depiction here.

Amid a fine supporting cast Scarlett Johansson as Psycho’s leading lady Janet Leigh and Jessica Biel as former Hitchcock obsession Vera Miles, both add a luminous presence to this film.

Hitchcock also presents a wryly amusing look at old Hollywood in transition as the established artists scrambled to deal with brash young challengers like the French and Italian new wave.  It also provides a fascinating view of how conservative America sought to control uncomfortable art through censorship.

A little ironically this film ends up being an attractive, well-written film but not a revelatory or artistically challenging one; it’s more like a top-drawer telemovie.


Nick’s rating: Three and a half stars.

Classification: M

Director(s): Sacha Gervasi

Release date: 10th Jan 2013

Running time:  98 mins

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