Iconic characters must prove the most difficult to portray – famous people from history, film, television, music and so on. I admire actors who take on these roles and appreciate them even more when they – often with the assistance of masterful makeup artists – make us feel like we are watching the person him or herself. We’ve seen countless ones – weak and wonderful over the years. This year Anthony Hopkins takes on Alfred Hitchcock and his labors are positively admirable, but the tale lacks the suspense or thrill so deserving.
Hitchcock is more about the love story between the director and his long time bride and collaborator, Alma Revill (Helen Mirren), than a biopic about the man and it centers on his efforts to get Psycho made and produced in 1959. We are privy to a behind the scenes look at the wheeling, dealing and frustrations of filmmaking for a director who many thought was past his glory days. We see a man who by with Psycho he produced perhaps what could arguably be his best film ever and in Hitchcock we learn that it almost did not make it to theatres.
Hopkins and Mirren have wonderful on screen chemistry and even though Hopkins looks only a little like Hitchcock – in spite of every effort in makeup, costuming, girth and stature – he does play the part well. Honestly, with such a unique appearance, playing Hitchcock with his overtly distinct personage (and impressive silhouette) with ease is impossible so I’d say Hopkins’ version is as good gets. Hitchcock’s known to almost everyone, because he appeared in all of his productions (as a narrator in his series), like Stan Lee in the Avenger films. Mirren has a far less daunting task and in her Alma, I saw a loving wife, one who put up with crotchety moods from a man who seems, according to screenwriters John J. McLaughlin and Stephen Rebello, to struggle with huge bouts with self-doubt and who had a penchant for his leading ladies.
Director Sacha Gervasi captures the time period and life behind and in front of the camera with perfection and wonderful attention to detail. I felt transported to the year of my birth and became engrossed in the era and the sets. McLaughlin and Rebello, however, try with limited effort to infuse suspense and conflict into a perhaps too simple tale, by implying that Alma gave Hitchcock reason to suspect misdoings and he her. I found the inner workings of their home life and their relationship as a creative team (on and off set) far more interesting than the supposed shenanigans between Alma and struggling scriptwriter, Whitfield Cook (Danny Huston) and the big man’s wandering eyes for his starlets like Janet Leigh (nicely played by Scarlet Johansson) and Vera Miles (the elegant Jessica Biel). Certainly, Hitchcock’s cast is strong and engaging and the cinematographic imagery stunning, but I did want more in the story.
Hitchcock aims to please and it does, but with little flourish really. Still I enjoyed the undertaking. I grew up watching Hitchcock. He afforded me my measuring stick for every suspense horror film that followed. Hitchcock frightened with breath-holding apprehension and tantalizingly teasing insinuation, never relying on gore or blatant bloodletting, though it did exist in his movies. He plays with the minds of his audiences and not with gratuitous, nausea-educing undertakings – even in The Birds. In this vein Hitchcock disappoints because it doesn’t truly reveal the mastermind genius behind such genre defining filmmaking, but overall it does entertain, even in somewhat shallowly. I am placing a B- in my grade book. It’s short, perhaps too sweet and definitely succinct in telling its tiny, too playful tale. Hitchcock the man had to be far darker than this movie implies.