Review: Hitchcock

Director: Sacha Gervasi
Screenplay: John J. McLaughlin
Novel: Stephen Rebello
Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Scarlett Johansson, Danny Huston, Toni Collette, Michael Stuhlbarg, Michael Wincott, Jessica Biel, James D’Arcy, Richard Portnow
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running time: 98 min


This review is brought to Row Three courtesy of Joseph Belanger of Black Sheep Reviews

If you’re going to make a movie about one of the greatest filmmakers of all time, your movie had better be good. To put it plainly, Alfred Hitchcock is simply one of the best and most famous film directors in history. And Psycho is arguably his most notorious film. It is an unfortunate shame, to say the least, that both the man himself, and this brilliant film, have been over simplified and stripped of all actual suspense and drama for the attempted biopic, Hitchcock. It is even more regrettable I’m afraid, to see two winning performances buried in such a middling movie.

Hitchcock adapts the modern style of biography filmmaking, choosing to focus on one particular period in the man’s life instead of a more strict adherence to portraying his life from birth to death. This approach worked quite well in films like Capote and My Week with Marilyn because, even though we only got a glimpse at their lives, we still got a grander sense of who they were and how they became these people. Screenwriter, John J. McLaughlin (Black Swan), chooses to focus all of his attention on the period where Hitchcock made Psycho, but it seems to me it could have been any movie really. After all, all he did was take all these popular ideas of who Hitchcock was as a person, from his obsession with blondes to his overeating to his control issues, and plop them into the behind the scenes of Psycho. A setting should have a purpose; this slice of his life should have been so particularly telling that it would also inform on what came before and where the man would go after. Instead, we get in and out of Hitchcock’s life without getting to know very much about him at all.

Hitchcock is far from disastrous but it just feels so slight and unfocused, which may be the inexperience of the film’s director, Sasha Gervasi. In fact, the only true anchors the film has are its two lead stars, Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren, as Mr. and Mrs. Alfred Hitchcock. Neither is given very much to work with but they make the most of it every moment they’re on screen. Hopkins takes the caricature he was given on the page and gives us an eye into the man’s soul. This is even more impressive given the size of the fat suit he’s got on. His Hitchcock is anxious, worried, unsure but also passionate and determined. His scenes with Mirren are what brings the film to life. They are a feisty pair and their chemistry truly feels like that of a dedicated, married couple, who have been together for ages. Together, Hopkins and Mirren make Hitchcock worth watching.

In conclusion and further to my first point, if you’re going to make a movie about Hitchcock, it should be a film that Hitchcock himself would be proud of. I’m not so sure he would have been able to sit through this one.

Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Jandy Hardesty

I pretty much agree with this review. The film was slight, but mildly enjoyable thanks to Hopkins and Mirren especially (I’d also give a plug to James D’Arcy for an eerily accurate imitation of Anthony Perkins which wasn’t given nearly enough screen time, and though I didn’t always believe Scarlett Johansson as Janet Leigh, I did believe her recreations of Marion Crane in specific scenes from Psycho). As a Hitchcock fan, it was fun to see the aspects of his life that you read about put on screen, but at the same time, a lot of it felt like checking off boxes – “did we have him mention how Vera Miles got pregnant instead of becoming a big star for him? Check. Did we have him talk about Grace Kelly’s retirement wistfully? Check. Did we have him regretful about Vertigo’s apparent failure? Check. Did we have Alma rework his script and editing? Check.” Nothing new or provocative here, and new and provocative was Hitchcock’s raison d’etre.

Ultimately, I think it was dragged down by legal issues (a well-connected Twitter friend let me know that Patricia Hitchcock isn’t in the film at all because her lawyers wouldn’t allow it, and there were lots of restrictions on the filmmakers from both Hitchcock’s estate and Universal) and a desire to appeal to the over-50 crowd. As a piece of forgettable, feel-good cinema, I enjoyed my hour and a half with it, but mostly it just made me wish I were watching anything from Hitchcock’s actual filmography instead. Thank goodness for Mirren, at least – she made what could’ve been an incredibly grating subplot at least endurable, and her scenes with Hopkins sizzle nicely.