Hitchcock

Director Sasha Gervasi’s Hitchcock is a cinematic lesson as to why certain good movies center on thought as much as emotion. Every now and then a director remembers that there are adults in the theater.

Rating: Does not need to be seen in the theater,but nonetheless needs to be seen.

HitchcockHitchcock is a wonderfully intriguing film that functions as a movie within a movie. It explores Mr. Hitchcock’s genius and personal shortcomings played out against the making of the classic Psycho (1960).

While Anthony Hopkins’ portrayal of the great Hitchcock will not rival Daniel Day-Lewis’ reincarnation of Abraham Lincoln, he captures all of the strengths and flaws of the great Hollywood director who is remembered to this day. Name another director in the history of Hollywood whose resume exceeds Hitchcock’s, which includes Notorious (1946); The Paradine Case (1947); Rear Window (1954); To Catch a Thief (1955) and North by Northwest (1959), not to mention The Birds (1963).

As for Hopkins himself, he continues to demonstrate an undeniable talent for impersonating historical figures, whether they be real or a work of fiction. Think of his role as Lt. William Bligh in The Bounty (1984); President Nixon in Nixon (1995); Pablo Picasso in Surviving Picasso (1996); John Quincy Adams in Amistad (1997); the infamous Hannibal Lector in the Hannibal films(2001, 2002); Ptolemy in Alexander (2004) and Friedrich Bonhoeffer in Slipstream (2007). In many ways he is nothing less than a modern day Paul Muni.

The first thing you learn in Hitchcock is that Psycho was a film that almost didn’t get made. Paramount Studios thought that it was too incredibly debased for it to risk financing. Additionally, the Production Code Administration was pushed to the edge of madness over Janet Leigh’s shocking shower death at the hands of the knife-wielding transvestite played in the original film by Anthony Perkins and here by James D’Arcy.

After Mr. Hitchcock took the great risk of personally financing Psycho,his profound problems with food and alcohol were enhanced. Furthermore,Hitch could never stray far from his lifelong fixation with blonde Hollywood actresses, and you quickly learn that his wife and movie collaborator, Alma Reville, had to truly love him to tolerate his excesses.

And it was Helen Mirren in her role as Alma that completely steals this film. Ms. Mirren is an intellectual acting force, and her appearance several times in swimming suits reminds you that she remains a stunningly attractive woman.

Ms. Mirren swims, gardens and keeps her husband from making a complete ass of himself, always there to provide needed help when a script needed to be punched up to make the film a true hit. If anyone gets nominated for an Oscar in this film, it will certainly be her.

I should also note that Scarlett Johansson follows-up her tremendous performances in both We Bought a Zoo (2011) and this year’s The Avengers with a spot-on impression of Janet Leigh. She is a sensual knockout who knows it but has the good sense not to flaunt it.

In one of several satirical scenes, we observe Hitchcock and Alma meet with Ms. Leigh for the first time for lunch. Leigh, stunning in a white dress that matched her blonde hair, declines Hitchcock’s offer of dessert, saying “I have to watch my figure.” To which Alma curtly responds, “You’re not the only one.”The leering Hitchcock never caught the joke, but the audience did.

There are several other interesting roles, most notably by the talented Toni Collette as Hitch’s secretary and assistant, Peggy Robertson; Michael Stuhlbarg as his agent, Lou Wasserman, and Jessica Biel as the put-upon actress Vera Miles. Ms. Collette again embodies a character that doesn’t need to be gorgeous to be beautiful, and Mr. Stuhlbarg is a reminder of how funny he was as the unserious Larry Gopnik in the Coen Brothers’ A Serious Man (2009). As Vera Miles, Ms. Biel sought to escape her contract with Hitchcock as well as his resentment given the unfortunate fact that she put family ahead of Hollywood success. While she is now largely forgotten, you really should see her contributions in two tremendous films, The Searchers (1956) and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962).

While Hitchcock has received iffy reviews, it is filled with historical, intellectual significance. You can condemn Hitch’s continual flirtation with his actresses all you want, but he made love with them through his camera, which resulted in the undeniable fact that Grace Kelly remains the most beautiful actress ever to appear on screen. If you doubt it, just hunt down Rear Window (1954) and To Catch a Thief (1955).

In the end, Hitchcock serves as a stunning reminder as to why Psycho remains one of the most chilling films ever made. In addition, you are further confronted with the profound embarrassment that Hitchcock never won an
Oscar, only receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award in 1979.

On the other hand, and without giving anything away, the credits also provide a reminder about why Hitchcock the man was such a lovably flawed character. When he received his Oscar recognition in 1979, he thanked Alma from the stage, noting that his contributions were a direct product of her help. It was a moving testament to not only Alma, but to Hitch himself.