Fox Searchlight Pictures, 2012, with Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Scarlett Johansson, Toni Collette, Danny Huston, Jessica Biel and James D’Arcy, 98 minutes, Rated PG-13 (Brief Adult Language, Themes and Situations)
Although I am not as young as I used to be, still I count myself lucky: I got to watch and see one of the most creative, distinctive, unique and commanding film directors of them all at the height of his powers: Alfred Hitchcock.
In a few days it will be the 36th anniversary of his death, a few months from now will be the 117th anniversary of his birth. I feel confident that if the widely-acknowledged “Master of Suspense” were somehow still here, I know which one he would rather celebrate…
Sacha Gervasi’s film doesn’t require the viewer to have a formal background in the Hitchcock oeuvre, but a working knowledge of Sir Alfred’s filmography does enhance appreciation of the proceedings.
Oscar winner Anthony Hopkins, naturally-endowed with a Londoner’s accent, slips effortlessly into Hitchcock’s often-parodied laconic style of speaking. The makeup and costume departments obviously labored long and hard to recreate the signature profile and corpulent body with, it must be said, some success.
However, one never is able to quite shake the awareness that you’re watching Hopkins, even if your ears tell you you’re hearing “Hitch.”
Insofar as that effort fails, it is the film’s greatest shortcoming, although younger audience members, not so familiar with Hitchcock’s iconic face, may fail to pick up on this discrepancy.
In any event, Hopkins, no stranger to suspenseful roles, does superbly in carrying the mood of the piece.
Cast as his wife, screenwriter and lifelong support, Alma Reville, Helen Mirren turns in a portrayal that is precisely on target.
Scarlett Johansson, who seems to never waver in the quality of her performances, is actress Janet Leigh.
As the film opens, it is 1959, Hitchcock is riding high on the success of his most recent movie, “North by Northwest,” and, at 60 years of age, is casting about for his next project.
He’s read a book about a particularly gruesome murder in Wisconsin several years previously and he’s struggling to turn it into a screenplay. Paramount Pictures, his studio, is leery about the project and even his wife, Alma, thinks the story needs a lot of work.
Alma has an apparent platonic friendship with another screenwriter, but could their joint writing sessions be … something more? For his part, Hitch is busy obsessing over his latest “Hitchcock blonde”, in this case: Janet Leigh. Is his obsession part of his creative process?
James D’Arcy plays Anthony Perkins, the closeted gay actor whose career is about to become forever associated with the role he is going to take on.
He is to play Norman Bates.
The movie Hitchcock is trying to get produced is called “Psycho”.
Film lovers already know the ending, so the tension of the story needs to carry the interest.
The screenplay, chock full of nuggets of the usual Hitchcock Trivia, makes all the obligatory stops: his appreciation of fine wine, his insistence on using storyboards to plan every frame of the picture, his fondness for his dogs, his dependence on drivers since he has never learned to operate a car for himself, his near-legendary obsession with blonde actresses and so forth.
Hopkins’ Hitchcock is well-portrayed, but it must be said that Mirren, as Alma Reville, less burdened by widespread familiarity within the world of movie fans, has license to make more of her character. And she does, helping drive the film’s tension when the story leaves the studio back lot and moves into the private world of the Hitchcocks as husband and wife.
But in the end, as the Hitchcocks themselves would tell you, it all comes down to the screenplay. Does it work? Does it hold your interest? Do you end up caring about these characters even when you KNOW how the story turns out?
The answer to all three questions is a resounding “Yes!”
“Hitchcock” is a movie that appeals to everyone, whether they worship the Master of Suspense, have only a casual familiarity with his films, or even have never seen the man’s films at all.
Enthusiastically recommended! (4.75 out of 5 stars)