10 February 2013

Review: Hitchcock

(Dir: Sacha Gervasi, 2012)

If there’s one good thing to come from two films about Alfred Hitchcock coming along at the same time, it’s how they’ve inspired me to rewatch some his films and discover the many I’ve never seen. Bearing in mind it’s the second weekend in February, this year alone I’ve watched Dial M For Murder, The Birds, Strangers on a Train and Rope, three of which were new to me. And I have no desire to stop there. I always find it perplexing why multiple films about the same subject come along at once - the two films about the legendary director are Sacha Gervasi’s Hitchcock, starring Anthony Hopkins as the man, and the BBC / HBO co-production The Girl, with Toby Jones taking on the role. Both films are based around the process of him making one of his classic later films, albeit with slightly different primary angles, meaning both feel remarkably similar especially as they’re set a couple of years apart.

The focus of Hitchcock is the prelude, process and struggle of making Psycho, obviously his most famous picture. It’s a film no-one thought should be made or released yet it turned into such a success, proving that Hitchcock knew how to perfectly judge what (his) audiences wanted to see. As he is keen to point out, darkness and horror is inherent within all men, but his chosen approach is to sit in the corner and watch / film it unfold. This is also where Hitchcock overplays its hand - Psycho is notoriously based on the life of Wisconsin serial killer Ed Gein and here we see Hitchcock having imaginary conversations with Gein, allowing us to question his own psychosis and what’s driving him to finish the picture. But it’s an unnecessary touch that doesn’t really work or offer much explanation other than this perhaps being a parallel to how he sees himself.

An element of psychosis also comes from his relationship with his wife Alma, played convincingly in Hitchcock by Helen Mirren. She is his life and rock and he feels he’s losing her to another man, Danny Huston’s Whitfield Cook. This also becomes another game, similar to what’s played out in many of his films, which ultimately fuels his feverish madness. Interestingly their relationship is a key element of The Girl too, but there the overbearing weight of the issues come from his fascination with his blonde leading ladies. That plays less of an important role in the story we're told here but it does underlie everything that takes place. The girl in question in Hitchcock is Janet Leigh, played well by Scarlett Johanssen, looking every bit the classic early sixties movie star.

Anthony Hopkins is extremely good in the role, bearing a great resemblance and nailing the mannerisms. Toby Jones is of course a great actor, and as good as he was in The Girl, Hopkins just has the sheer overbearing presence to nail the characterisation here. In both films the man himself doesn’t come across well, with his awkwardly creepy presence, fascination with blondes and his cutting attitude, but it’s always portrayed with a sense of intelligence and decorum. What I find more fascinating is what it was the people whom he allowed close to him had? Nonetheless his genius as a director remains undisputed.

As a film about the process of making a well loved classic Hitchcock is a fascinating exploration. From that perspective it’s also a lot more satisfying than The Girl which lacks the production value for it to feel quite as effective in that area. But as an exploration of the man it feels underwhelming. What it was that drew him to continuously make such morbid films is left unexplored, yet each film was surely an exorcising of his demons, whatever they may be. Hopkins is great of course but only within the context of how we see the man portrayed here, making Hitchcock an interesting film that doesn’t go far enough. However if it inspires you to go back and rediscover his films then it should be considered something of a success.

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