Film Score: Danny Elfman Cinematography: Jeff Cronenweth
Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Scarlett Johansson and Jessica Biel
Hitchcock, like the master of suspense himself, is not without its flaws. But unlike the great director it attempts to portray, Sacha Gervasi does not possess the genius with which to overcome those flaws. In the end, the film is a disappointment on a variety of levels. Though, that is not to say it is entirely devoid of entertainment value. The film limits itself to the making of Psycho, a transitional period for Hitchcock when he was leaving Paramount and going over to Universal with whom he already had a relationship from producing his Alfred Hitchcock Presents. At the same time, the secondary story line is about his relationship with Alma Reville, his wife of many years.
The screenplay is based on the book by Stephen Rebello, whose intent was not only to focus on the making of the film, but Hitchcock’s personal life at the time. One of the most unfortunate choices in the film, however, was to also bring in the story of Ed Gein, the serial killer from Wisconsin on whom Robert Bloch’s novel was based. The huge problem with all this is that every single story line seems to depend on the audience’s prior knowledge of all three areas. My own personal enjoyment of the film was completely dependent upon my knowledge of how important Alma was to Hitch’s success, from working on screenplays, overseeing production, editing, casting and the like. At the same time, my reading on the evolution of the Gein story, to the novel, to the motion picture sort of worked against the film as I wanted to learn more about the production and really didn’t.
The biggest disappointment was the emphasis on the relationship of Hitch and Alma, though Helen Mirren is absolutely captivating and ultimately steals the show. In true fifties fashion they don’t talk, and her supposed dalliance with writer Whitfield Cook was left frustratingly unexplored. Cook had adapted Strangers on a Train for Hitch, as well as writing Stage Fright, but this also seemed a bit unclear. Screenwriter John J. McLaughlin attempts to weave the same kind of dry humor into his title character as the man himself had, but it ultimately falls flat. Really, the whole film tries far to hard to make its point, and the audience can’t help but feel oppressed by it’s excruciating effort. Not only does Anthony Hopkins look nothing like Hitch, but the extensive makeup only serves to accentuate that fact. Not to mention that he does perhaps the worst impression of Hitchcock I’ve ever heard.
The Ed Gein subplot with Hitch imagining he’s talking to the killer himself also seems incredibly unrealistic. Sure, Hitch had his inner demons, but while his success did not cure his insecurity he seemed to be far more self contained and less childlike in the reading I’ve done than he is portrayed in the film. And yet, with all that being said, I did enjoy the film. Danny Elfman was put in the unusual position of rescoring Bernard Herrmann’s distinctive score for the second time, having previously done so for the Gus Van Sant remake of Psycho in 1998. Scarlett Johansson and Jessica Biel do a nice job of playing Janet Leigh and Vera Miles respectively, and other character actors like Danny Huston and Kurtwood Smith are very credible. Ultimately Hitchcock is a very strange film, and though I hesitate to recommend it, I can’t deny that I enjoyed watching it. Whether or not I ever do again, however, remains to be seen.