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My Thoughts on ‘Hitchcock’

Alfred Hitchcock was a true cinematic genius and he is arguably my favorite director, so I’m sort of biased to like any movie about the man. Recently, I went to an early screening of Sacha Gervasi’s new film, Hitchcock, at the Los Angeles County of Museum of Art. I liked it… mostly.

Anthony Hopkins stars as the legendary filmmaker who is fresh off the success of North By Northwest. He wants to return to his earlier days of lower budgets and less glamour, so he lands on a horror novel that’s based on the real-life exploits of notorious serial killer Ed Gein called Psycho. With a slight bit of convincing, his loyal and talented wife, Alma, who is played beautifully by Helen Mirren, throws her support behind his tawdry and controversial new project.

Now, before I saw the film and before I even saw the trailer, I had a good feeling of what type of film Hitchcock would be. I’m going to do my best to not reveal many spoilers, but in all honesty, there’s not a whole lot to be spoiled. Hitchcock’s notorious infatuations with his leading ladies is touched on, which of course inevitably causes some tension between him and Alma. There are issues with Paramount Pictures and film censors over Psycho‘s violent and sexual content. Funding for the film is nowhere to be found, so Hitch and Alma mortgage their home in order to get the picture made (why are we supposed to care that the most successful film director of his time is mortgaging his home? After all, he can just direct more movies). The point is that the film’s plot and conflicts are not inspired. It’s an obvious storyline that fits in any number of biopics that have come out over the years.

But I saw that whitewashed, toothless story coming a mile away, so I was OK. I knew what to expect and I liked the film anyway. Sure it’s short and convenient and the conflicts never seem to be all that dire, but it’s a fun movie. Hopkins is really wonderful as Hitchcock. His voice and mannerisms are all excellent and his makeup team obviously didn’t go to the school of last year’s J. Edgar (if you’ve never seen Clint Eastwood’s J. Edgar Hoover biopic, I envy you). And another bonus– Hopkins plays the director as a likable, witty and charming man. I obviously never knew Hitchcock, but I’ve read copious interviews with and about the man and he still remains something of an enigma to me. I’ve heard he was difficult to work with and I’ve also heard that he was a joy. I enjoyed Hopkins’ (mostly) joyful version. He humanizes Hitch and makes him seem like a sweet old man.

Mirren’s performance is also a joy to watch, and I suspect she’ll get an Oscar nomination. She portrays Alma as a strong, talented, oftentimes under appreciated woman who eventually has her fill of her husband’s selfish, obsessive ways. It’s the type of role that the Academy loves and so do audiences. Much like Hopkins, Helen Mirren is great in just about everything she does and her performance in this film is no exception. She’s a seemingly effortless actress and she pairs up beautifully with her co-star.

Hitchcock is a husband and wife relationship film first, the making of Psycho a distant second. Scarlett Johansson is quite good as actress Janet Leigh, but she’s definitely a supporting role and not at all the focus. James D’Arcy is actually tremendous as the obviously troubled Anthony Perkins, aka Norman Bates, but he’s little used, as is Jessica Biel as Vera Miles and Toni Collette as Hitchcock’s peppy assistant. What’s not underused, however, is nostalgia. The film nicely captures the feel of the late ’50s at Paramount, and although real life actors, writers, directors and moguls are being portrayed, the script manages not to constantly namedrop or wink at the camera when someone famous comes onscreen.

Set to release on November 23rd, I’m guessing the film will do pretty good numbers at the box office because it’s a film that appeals to a pretty wide audience, though it probably skews a bit older considering the headlining cast. Hitchcock is not a film for scholars or devoted fans who want to learn a great deal about the director or his classic slasher flickIt’s a fun little film that’s easy to take and doesn’t do much to challenge, which is not always bad. Another Hitchcock picture recently aired on HBO called The Girl. I have yet to see it, but it’s supposed to show significantly more of the director’s dark side as he works with Tippi Hedren on The BirdsHitchcock is more of a love letter to the impressive collaboration between the director and his wife. It might not be the most salacious or riveting aspect of Hitchcock’s life to portray, but it’s very pleasant to watch.

If you go see Hitchcock, don’t expect to walk out of the theater horrified like the unsuspecting folks who first saw Psycho in 1960 and then you won’t be disappointed.

P.S. If you’re a fan of Psycho or horror films in general, check out my list of favorite scary movies here.

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