True horror genius is not something can be taught – it’s an ability that is somehow born in a person. If anyone could be a film genius, we’d have more Kubricks and Spielburgs than we would know what to do with. The magic of the movies, the magic that I celebrate here every week isn’t something you can manufacture, it’s something that has to be nurtured with love. No other film maker could make magic quite the way Alfred Hitchcock could. Maybe it was the way his brain worked, maybe it was obsession or maybe it was a weird combination of both. This film looks at his (arguably) greatest film and the process of how he made it.
Let’s take a look at Hitchcock.
The plot is pretty basic. The film takes places when Hitchcock is attempting to get the film Psycho up and running, only to find that the studio doesn’t want to distribute it and has to fight up-hill just to make sure it is available to audiences. At the same time he believes his wife Alma is having an affair and finds himself at ends about what to do. What the film lacks in narrative complexity it more than makes for in character drama.
The film is not exactly a love letter to Hitchcock. To be sure it highlights his creepy obsession with his leading ladies, over indulgence, and paranoia. The best scene is when Hitch confronts Vera Miles, asking her why she chose to have a family instead of being a star. He ends the conversation with “Why do they always betray me.” He’s talking about Vera and his wife, but he’s also talking about his fantasy women, the illusion of the perfect character he tried so hard to find in the flesh. At the same time, the audience understands that no one, not Vera nor Alma, have betrayed them – he simply choose to take these things as personal attacks. It shows how complicated a man he was, and that deserves praise – it would have been a thousand times easier to just make it a tribute to his memory, not to who he was as a man.
What I wasn’t in love with was Alma’s plot line with her writer friend where she sees him having an affair and immediately stop talking to him. I understand that she felt a little like she was betrayed and that she should have been working with Hitch, but her characterization seemed to indicate she didn’t care about stuff like that. I could understand if they kept it in for historical purposes, but if it was an attempt at drama then they failed miserably. I also wasn’t thrilled with the scenes where Hitchcock wiuld speak with serial killer Ed Gein, i.e. the serial killer the book (and subsequently the film) Psycho was based on. They never make it clear if this is a part of Hitchcock’s process as a director, or he was channeling him, or if Hitchcock was just sort of slipping. It would have been nice to have a throw away line about it but I can understand leaving it open.
Really, the saving grace in my opinion for this film in terms of acting was Helen Mirren. That’s not to say that Anthony Hopkins isn’t great — quite the opposite, he was wonderful. He plays the quirky director, and no matter how deep and nuisanced the character is, he plays it as a man who is just a few centimeters off kilter. Mirren has to play his wife straight faced, a woman who loved her but also felt overshadowed by him, who understand the bad parts of him in a way no one else could or does. Their relationship is beautiful but also tragic, sort of the way real marriages are sometimes. Scarlett Johansson does a good job too as Psycho’s star Janet Leigh, really capturing the elegance of the time but also the nervous balance to keeping Hitchcock happy without compromising her own sanity. Also she’s a point of contention as she’s just another blonde Hitch uses to try and fill the void in his fantasy.
The film itself is bright and crisp, able to instill a sense of old school Hollywood glamour without dulling the color the way some films do. Quite the opposite, the film is full of rich colors and detailed sets. There isn’t much more to say other than it’s shot beautiful with no expense spared for how to tackle specific scenes.
Overall, Hitchcock is a strong character drama that deserve praise for its craftmanship and writing. There are only some minor issues with what they chose to include but the story does work well as a look into one of the most iconic directors of all time. I would recommend it to any Hitchcock fan, or even anyone interested in a potent character drama.
– Great cinematography
– Strong acting.
– Strong writing.
– Some issues with story telling.
– Lack of explanation about Ed Gein scenes.