Thursday, December 13, 2012
Stars: Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Scarlett Johansson, Danny Huston
Director: Sacha Gervasi
Genre: Biopic/ Drama
First off, don't even bother with this movie if you haven't seen Alfred Hitchcock's signature film, Psycho. Hitchcock, which is about the making of Psycho, interwoven with the legendary director's difficult relationship with his wife, Alma Reville, simply contains too many inside references and tongue-in-cheek memory joggers relating to the film--and to his long running television series, (e.g., his shadowy silhouette upon the wall) that you just wouldn't get it otherwise. Fortunately, for the sake of my labors here, most everyone besides the very young and those who just stepped off the boat from Timbuktu are familiar with Hitchcock's work...so let us proceed.
Anthony Hopkins, in a fat suit, has the late director's mannerisms and pretentious speech patterns down pat, but the small beef I have with his performance is the same one I had with Michelle Williams in My Week With Marilyn, in which the actress plays Marilyn Monroe too close to her public persona--that of the dumb blonde--even in private. I can't imagine Alfred Hitchcock, in intimate moments, saying "Gooood ev-en-ing " in that oft caricatured way to his wife as he's about to plop on top of her like a grand piano falling from a fifth story window.
What will be truly revealing to most about Hitchcock is the role that Alma played in the making of his films (the veracity of this information comes from the writings of their daughter, Patricia). A talented editor and screenwriter, Alma was the wind beneath Alfred's wings--acting in the background as collaborator and sounding board to the great director.
Helen Mirren , superb as usual, plays Alma as a woman who is fooling herself, as well as her husband, about the nature of her "working" relationship with screenwriter Whitfield Cook (Danny Huston). Hitchcock's well known eye for the ladies is only referred to in passing, but it gives the viewer some insight into one of the reasons why the couple's relationship was strained, and why Alma's eye may have been roving as well.
Scarlett Johansson brings a subtlety to her role as Janet Leigh (the star of Psycho UNTIL...) that I felt was spot on.
As in most films about real figures from the past, strict attention to detail is not sacred here. For example, in Psycho's famous shower scene, it is implied that Johansson/Leigh is nude, and that they are trying to work the camera angles so as not to reveal too much--as this was the day of heavily repressive censorship in the movies--but in reality Leigh had some semi-sheer fabric strategically covering her in critical areas,. which gave the impression of nudity in some of the quick out of focus shots in that scene.
With all that was working against Psycho getting produced--as in the studio balking on the making of the film to begin with; the perverted censors (as all censors are) breathing down the director's neck; and the couple having to pony up their own funds to finance the film--Hitchcock leaves us with the impression that Psycho stumbled its way to success. But I think maybe that was for dramatic effect. They didn't call Alfred Hitchcock a genius for no reason, and now we know that at least part of that genius came from his "better" half.