As a Television Production graduate I find myself especially drawn to films about films and the celebration of great visual art through the creation of more great visual art. Cinema is a self-sustaining medium in this way. People are so captivated by the magic of the silver screen that it feels like a special privilege to get inside the minds of cinematic legends, hence the appeal of special features, audio-commentaries and even bloopers. It's the all-encompassing need to know how the prestige of the movie magic trick is achieved. Where was he hiding that rabbit?
Alfred Hitchcock (played here by Anthony Hopkins) was definitely a cinematic legend, an artist well worth celebrating, and a fascinating character to boot. A film that would deconstruct his personal demons, his relationship with his wife and collaborator, Alma Reville (brought to life by Helen Mirren), and individual filmmaking techniques that made him the "Master of Suspense" was long overdue. I entered the cinema with high expectations for a film that would do the great director justice and overall I wasn't disappointed.
Journalists ask if Hitch will be retiring. Image from the official trailer
Rather than becoming an epic biopic spanning the decades of Hitchcock's entire career and missing the detailed character exploration and the behind-the-scenes elements the audience were keen to see, Hitchcock focuses on a significant point in the director's career, during the eighteen month period when he made and released Psycho (based on the book Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho by Stephen Rebello).
Scarlett Johansson as Janet Leigh in the iconic shower scene. Image from the official trailer
The scene is set in Hitch's bathtub where he sits reading the reviews of his latest success, North by Northwest. Despite their high praise, journalists are wondering if he should quit while he's ahead, and we are immediately introduced to the naked vulnerability of the aging man, the relationship between Hitch and his supportive wife as she reassures him in a well-practiced and jocular fashion, and the overall tone and themes of the film. In a perfect feat of foreshadowing every conflict, plot point and character motive in the rest of the film is seeded in the Hitchcock's bathroom.
The film is a cross-genre piece that mirrors Hitchcock's very nature. An interesting biography of the director's struggles to make a strikingly different kind of movie to his established filmography in a time period when Hollywood was ruled by censors (apparently no film before Psycho ever felt the need to show a toilet – never mind one being flushed!) and the gruesome dark side of human nature wasn't often explored, is layered with tongue-in-cheek comedy, moments of Hitchcock-esque suspense and truly endearing explorations of love and affection in marriage.
Lifelong partners Alfred Hitchcock and Alma Reville. Image taken from the official trailer
While Hitchcock isn't the most accurate telling of events - and it glosses over some facts that I can only assume were deemed less interesting, such as the self-induced poverty Hitch and Alma suffered due to funding Psycho themselves – it is certainly a wonderfully dramatic one, with embellishments serving the entertainment value. Allowing director Sacha Gervasi some wiggle room for artistic licence isn't hard to do as he facilitates the exploration of Hitch's dark side that balanced his lovability; his inner voyeur who sought to control his leading ladies through uncomfortably close direction and fantasy love-affairs (I'm thinking particularly of a scene involving a peephole in a dressing room wall), his vulnerable and insecure childishness and complete reliance on the women in his life, and his occasional thoughts of murder and maudlin fascination with the gruesome tale behind Psycho.
The only area where the film failed for me was the strange hallucinations Hitch has of Ed Gein (played by Michael Wincott), the murderer who inspired the character of Norman Bates. It distracts from the authenticity of the film and whatever unhinged effect it is supposed to achieve is done so far more convincingly by a lingering close up on the back of Alma Reville's neck.
Anthony Hopkins' has done well in replicating Hitchcock's mannerisms (with the help of some padding and prosthetics) but Helen Mirren steals the show with her tender and charming performance as Alma. She conveys a thousand emotions in every frame and does justice to the "woman behind the man" in an empowering moment for women. The supporting cast of stars, including Scarlett Johansson, Danny Huston, Toni Collette and Jessica Biel, were all predictably good at playing other stars, even when they didn't have much to work with.
A warm and gripping story of a cuddly Alfred Hitchcock worth rooting for, I really enjoyed this film and highly recommend it. If you're looking for something a bit more sinister you might want to try the recent BBC-HBO film The Girl instead, but Hitchcock has a lot going for it and at the very least is guaranteed to entertain.