Monday, December 17, 2012

Hitchcock

HITCHCOCK (Sacha Gervasi, 2012)

Rather than following his hit NORTH BY NORTHWEST with a more conventional thriller, Alfred Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins) seeks something more adventurous for his next project.  In HITCHCOCK the legendary director decides that he must adapt Robert Bloch’s PSYCHO.  Many in the industry feel that the book, inspired by Wisconsin mass murderer Ed Gein, is too violent and perverse to be a mainstream film and that a horror picture is beneath Hitchcock.  A Paramount studio executive is wary about backing PSYCHO, so the Master of Suspense and his wife Alma Reville (Helen Mirren) choose to finance it themselves.

Although based on Stephen Rebello’s book ALFRED HITCHCOCK AND THE MAKING OF PSYCHO, HITCHCOCK takes dramatic liberties with the behind-the-scenes story that strain credulity and attempt to diminish Hitch’s artistry by detailing his personal shortcomings.  Gein is imagined as a Hitchcock confidante, like a devil perched on the director’s shoulder fanning the flames of his fears.  Hitchcock’s obsessions and neuroses are well-documented in film scholarship and the movies themselves, yet this drama fails to expose the psychologically complex figure that the director’s public persona shields.  Even in private Hitchcock the character remains ever the showman.

HITCHCOCK theorizes that PSYCHO provides an allegory for Hitchcock and Reville’s relationship.  At best it’s a misguided attempt to explore her motherly role in their partnership and his untamed indulgence.  At worst it’s an insulting perspective of a longtime marriage and vital creative collaboration.  Additionally, HITCHCOCK makes the assumption that it must reduce his achievements to give Reville her deserved due.

Director Sacha Gervasi quotes shots from Hitchcock films and reproduces a measure of the director’s dark, droll sense of humor, but ultimately HITCHCOCK comes off as a glib film about a great film.  The snarky tone yields a movie as breezily entertaining but unfulfilling and unenlightening as Hollywood gossip items.  Hitchcock’s controlling behavior isn’t beyond reproach, but what matters in the end to audiences is how the director channeled his fixations into art, not how those hang-ups may have made him difficult to live and work with.  In its attempt to demystify the people and process behind a classic film, HITCHCOCK feels petty and disposable.

From the replication of old movie sets and methods to the novelty of seeing contemporary stars as Tinseltown legends, like Scarlett Johansson as Janet Leigh, HITCHCOCK is content to be a film of minor surface pleasures.  Essentially it’s the antithesis of it’s subject’s work.

Grade: C-

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