Hitchcock (2012): Sacha Gervasi’s Biopic of Genuis Director, Starring Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren

In Hitchcock, Sacha Gervasi’s entertaining, if not particularly profound film, we get a glimpse into the creative genius of the most famous and most influential filmmaker in history.

Our grade: B- (** out of *****)

The film also offers a speculation about the interface between the public persona and private life of the “Master of Suspense,” while directing his most known (but not best) picture, the seminal 1960 “Psycho.”

World premiering at the 2012 AFI Film Fest, “Hitchcock” will be released by Fox Searchlight on November 23.  Likely to divide discernible intellectual critics and to disappoint viewers expecting a trashy and gossipy (tabloid-like) feature, this mid-range movie should satisfy the more mainstream viewers familiar with “Psycho” and other works of Hitchcock, the quintessential above-the title director.

Sacha Gervasi, who comes from the field of non-fictional cinema, and his writer, John J. McLaughlin, adapting to the screen Stephen Rebello’s informative book, “Alfred Hitchcock and The Making of Psycho,” know that no matter what kind of film they make, there will always be disappointment from some critics and viewers.

Thus, instead of pretending to make a fully realized biopic, they have focused on a relatively short period in the life and times of this brilliant director.   In the process, they have also shrewdly decided to concentrate on characterization of a few personas and the actors who play the, the estimable Anthony Hopkins in the titular role and the wonderful Helen Miren in the role of Hitchcok’s wife and crucial collaborator, Alma Reville.

Though neither Hopkins nor Mirren looks (moves or talks) exactly like maestro Hitchcock and companion Alma Reville, they do capture the spirit and the essence of the complicated and complex figures they play.  My first impression of the film is that Mirren gives a more compelling performance, a combined result of her acting choices as well as the commendable scripting of her role.

As Alma Revile, history’s and this film’s unsung heroine, who still has not received the full credits she deserves as Hitchcock’s most intimate and reliable collaborator, Helen Mirren again proves that she can tackle any role, in any genre, and any period of time with her unmistakable intelligence, sharp acting instincts, and, of course, considerable dramatic chops.  With some justice, Mirren should receive yet another Best Actress Oscar nomination. (More about Mirren later).

On some level, “Hitchcock” wishes to restore “justice” crediting a woman, who was not only a loyal, devoted wife for over half a century—the couple got married in 1925, when Hitchcock was barely 26—but also muse, soul-mate, and creative force in her own right, playing a strategic roles in her Hitchcock’s evolution of a world-renowned director in general, and her work on specific films (as co-writer, adapter of material, uncredited producer and conceptual thinker-designer behind the scenes) in particular

Behind every man stands a strong woman: The film’s goal is to show that, lurking behind Hitchcock, the extraordinary icon known for orchestrating some of the most intense thrilling experiences of suspense, menace, and intrigue audiences have ever seen, was a hidden force, his always creative bond, often explosive romance with his steadfast wife and collaborator, Alma Reville.

Gervasi’s ambitious efforts to lay bare and illuminate the captivating and complex love story between Hitchcock and Alma Reville is ultimately semi-successful, but there is a lot to like and enjoy in this picture.

For one thing, we get some intriguing insights, conveyed through sly and shadowy lens, about the couple’s most daring adventure, the making of the 1960 “Psycho,” which, half a century later is still the most popular, talked and written about horror thrill ever made in film history.  (I have taught at least a dozen university courses and seminars about Hitchcock, which always included the screening of “Psycho,” and invariably this picture has continued to provoke students, year after year, on so many different levels).

Though he made many brilliant movies, before and after “Psycho,” there’s no doubt that this movie is the director’s most controversial and legendary film. When the tumultuous, against-the-odds production was over, nothing about movies would ever be the same.   Yet, as “Hitchcock” shows, few people, in and out the film industry, have realized that it took two to pull it off.

Sharply uneven, McLoughlin’s scenario may be trying to do too much in spinning a story rife with surprises, comic ironies and dark twists—containing elements of suspense in its right. But in its good moments, the movie is solid in capturing the excitement and obsession, the anxiety, fear, and thrill s of two creative individuals, defined by very different personality, whose distinctively tenacious love played a steady and continuous part in creating Hitchcock’s film art, motivating him to reach the kinds of heights in his art and career that, as the movie suggests, would have been impossible without the backing, physically, literally, and metaphorically, of Alma Reville.

In this respect, “Hitchcock” qualifies as a portraiture of one special working marriage and, vice versa, one special marriage work.

 

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