Hitchcock review (DVD)

Alfred Hitchcock is name synonymous with cinema. Hitchcock’s metaphorical, and in some cases literal, shadow looms large over some of the most revered, significant contributions to the history of cinema. His work has inspired countless tribute and homage, as well as influencing a raft of new directors, hoping it imitate even a fraction of the impact Hitchcock had on the celluloid world. With that in mind it seems almost strange that it has taken Hollywood so long to direct the focus of a modern motion picture on the intricate and often complicated life of the man himself, and the creation of some of his most famous works.

Hitchcock is ostensibly the story of the making of Psycho, from its inception as a book based on the life of notorious serial killer Ed Gein, to development, and becoming Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece to eclipse all masterpieces.  However, in many respects it is more the story of the deterioration of Hitchcock’s relationship with his wife Alma, as he risks everything to pursue the film he wanted to make, and the strain the challenge of this puts on their marriage.

Hitchcock should have been a triumph, but for a number of reasons it falls flat in that regard. While the story is intriguing, the premise does not have enough weight to it for a feature film. The span of time spent making Psycho is clearly not long enough to encompass all of the facets of Hitchcock’s complicated and notoriously difficult personality, nor is it long enough to truly delve into the deep seeded, and somewhat obsessive relationship he has with his leading ladies. The audience are left to ponder a number of dropped hints and half alluded to past incidents without ever really being given a full insight into them. This is fine for those aware of the history of Hitchcock and his career, but to the casual cinemagoer or the uninitiated this will almost certainly prove confusing.

One of the other major issues I had with Hitchcock was the involvement of Ed Gein. While I appreciate that the premise for Psycho was based on the real life exploits of Gein and his obsession with his deceased mother, the focus on him in Hitchcock is very odd. He appears in a number of dream sequences and appears to be trying to convince Hitchcock to commit murders, or to at least embrace his darker side. It is a lazy attempt to add some drama to a situation that doesn’t really require it, and detracts from the more realistic elements of the film. If anything, these sequences are a cheap narrative device to suggest Hitchcock is losing his grip on reality, and certainly have the aura of filler material about them.

While at times the film may be lacking in story depth at times, it is certainly not short on star performances. Sir Anthony Hopkins is in phenomenal form as Hitchcock, utterly convincing and completely absorbing. The prosthetics are jarring at first, but it is a credit to Hopkins how quickly he becomes completely unrecognisable as himself, and morphs effectively into the character he is portraying.  Supporting this extraordinary turn is the always reliable Helen Mirren as Alma, who provides a measured, emotionally charged performance as an excellent counterbalance to the dry cutting wit of Hitchcock. This contrast helps to develop their relationship, which provides the key issue which holds the audience’s attention. Scarlett Johansson looks and sounds much like Janet Leigh and is excellent in what she is given to do, but her role is woefully underdeveloped, and she really has very much to do. The same applies with James D’Arcy as Anthony Perkins, who seems one of the more interesting characters, but is really just a background player in this film. 

Visually, the film is well shot, and makes use of classic Hitchcock style photography, especially with reference to shots from specific films, including Psycho itself. The scenes in the paramount ‘studio’ also evoke a real sense of the chaos of a film set, and the extra variable that Hitchcock’s presence brought to that.

Hitchcock is an enjoyable and entertaining character profile with excellent performances by its two leads, and some convincing if underutilised turns from the remainder of the cast. However, it is intrinsically flawed, too light on story, and shuns some of the other more interesting periods of Hitchcock’s life to focus on the most famous. Inevitably, Hitchcock is not everything it could have been, and is perhaps a wasted opportunity to craft a more in depth look at one of cinemas greatest minds.

EXTRAS ★★ There are the featurette The Story (3:44); the featurette The Cast (4:13); the featurette Danny Elfman Maestro (2:10); the featurette Hitch And Alma (3:07); the featurette Remembering Hitchcock (4:32) the Hitchcock Cell Phone PSA (0:39) and the theatrical trailer.

Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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