Movie review: Hitchcock
Sharp performances cannot haul this dead body out of the water, but picture is entertaining enough for filmic neophytes
Posted: February 6, 2013
He likes to watch. Alfred Hitchcock reveals the connection between him and his Psycho protagonist.
Hitchcock doesn't show us what a great man the Master of Suspense was as much as it shows us what a remarkable woman his wife was.
The film, by documentary director Sacha Gervasi - whose Anvil! The Story of Anvil, about the eponymous heavy metal band, received rave reviews upon its release a few years ago and is even listed as one of Steven Jay Schneider's current 1001 Films You Must See Before You Die - is very family-friendly and informative in the way a primary school project might be. The facts follow each other in a way that is written, inorganic.
No one expected this film to reflect its subject's intimate knowledge and fervent exploitation of human fears, but in fact Hitchcock is made for those viewers who have heard of the man but seek no further understanding of him. The title is wholly misleading, and in fact much our attention is directed toward discovering the feelings, motivation and talent of Alma Reville, Hitchcock's wife for a good half-century, his most trusted adviser who possessed a skill for entertainment barely equaled by her famous husband.
Involved in shaping and revising screenplays since the very beginning of Hitchcock's career as a film director, Reville was arguably as much responsible for her husband's image as anyone else. What Hitchcock does succeed in suggesting to us is the despair and conflicted emotions she feels when she looks at her obese husband, the genius who quite literally hogs the spotlight and looks pathetic flirting with his blond leading ladies.
Directed by Sacha Gervasi
With Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Scarlett Johansson, James D'Arcy
The contrast between the way she conducts herself in the presence of flatterers, never misbehaving but feeling validated, and her husband who may or may not have succeeded in flattering an actress into bed, is made clear at the very beginning, and so is the oft-repeated refrain about power.
Anyone who knows anything about Hitchcock has heard how he considered cast members "cattle," and that he controlled the wardrobe, hairstyles and movements of his blond actresses to an extent that one can easily label "obsessive." Rather than show us any proof of this, characters in the film indulge in such labeling themselves, poisoning the well of interpretation.
Set around the time of artistic and financial uncertainty that accompanied his production of Psycho, which would prove to be Hitchcock's biggest success financially, the narrative focuses on the slight unraveling of his marriage to his wife of 30 years and how the horror film they shoot actually manages to bring them together again.
Anthony Hopkins' physical resemblance to the big man is impressive, although, as is to be expected, the copy is still much too handsome compared with the real deal. An actor that stands out, however, is James D'Arcy, who plays Anthony Perkins, Psycho's Norman Bates. Uncannily imitating the mannerisms of the shy actor to a tee, his presence is felt in each of the handful of scenes in which he appears because of the slight mystique he carries with him.
Unfortunately, the mystery is all but shattered by constant oblique references to his closeted sexuality, and though Hitchcock certainly used Perkins' close relationship with his own mother to the advantage of his film, such method acting was in fact something the director abhorred. Remember, his actors were cattle, not people.
Both Helen Mirren and her character, Alma Reville, are quite astonishing, as they channel the strength necessary to survive life with a man as self-obsessed, as convinced of his own genius as Hitchcock, and when he falls ill and Reville has to take over direction of Psycho, her combination of charm, authority and creative acumen makes it immediately clear why she is his wife.
The film does a good job of hiding or recreating the original Psycho footage, of which not a single frame is visible here. But the film also hides a great deal of the story with pointless fantasy sequences in which Hitchcock spends time speaking to the original "Norman Bates," the character from the novel he and Reville would adapt. Such narrative shorthand, making it seem that Hitchcock himself was a little psycho, doesn't serve any substantive purpose in our understanding of the character, as it contributes little to the resolution of the strained relationship he has with his wife.
While those familiar with Hitchcock's work or life will undoubtedly object to several aspects of the film, it is not painful to watch, with the exception of those fantasy scenes, which seem to intrude more and more as Hitchcock progresses.
As a reminder of the importance of Alma Reville for Hitchcock, the film succeeds. As a study of the importance of Hitchcock to the world of filmmaking, the film doesn't have anything to say.
André Crous can be reached at