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Monday, March 2, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 15.0° F  Fair
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Hitchcock oversimplifies the legendary director's quirks and contradictions
Love among the reels.
Love among the reels.

Alfred Hitchcock, the undisputed master of movie suspense, is given a fairly fanciful treatment in Hitchcock, which is supposed to be based on Stephen Rebello's book, Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of 'Psycho'. In actuality, this film written by John J. McLaughlin and directed by Sacha Gervasi is a love story about Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins) and his wife, Alma Reville (Helen Mirren), not an accurate backstage look at the creation of his groundbreaking horror film and its enduring role in the American psyche.

As Hitchcock, Hopkins dons prosthetic cushioning that lets him assume the corpulent shape of the famous director, and his speech pattern approximates Hitchcock's distinctive vocal style without nailing his insinuating tone. It's a good effort but rarely convinces us completely. Easier to concoct is Alma, a figure whose physical bearing is unknown to most viewers. Therefore, it's barely disconcerting that Mirren looks nothing like photos of Hitchcock's wife, a talented film editor who worked in the British movie industry before marrying the director and becoming his primary sounding board. More disconcerting is that Scarlett Johansson looks nothing like Psycho star Janet Leigh. Still, these discrepancies would hardly be noticeable if Hitchcock provided a more absorbing glimpse into the world of Psycho.

Are we really to believe, as the movie suggests, that Alma filled in at the studio for Hitchcock, who was sick in bed, and figured out a crucial element that had hindered the filming of Psycho's famous shower sequence? Was this sequence not storyboarded within an inch of its life? While it's lovely to see the woman behind the famous man get her due, having it occur at the expense of film history does damage. More dismaying, however, is the romance between Alma and the screenwriter Whitfield Cook (Danny Huston), which appears to be concocted just to send Hitchcock into jealous tantrums and devious machinations. Simplifying Hitchcock's propensities for voyeurism, perversity and sexual sublimation into a straightforward case of unwarranted marital suspicion does a disservice to the artistic process.

Long after his death, Hitchcock's contradictions continue to captivate his fans. Both a consummate showman and a savvy artist, the man is a story in and of himself. Hitchcock is at its best when revealing inside-Hollywood moments, like when the filmmaker whipped out his own checkbook to finance Psycho when the studio would not. But the lovelorn Hitchcock of this movie's fantasies would be better off left on the cutting-room floor.

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