Hitchcock - Trailer
A love story about one of the most influential filmmakers of the last century, Alfred Hitchcock, and his wife and partner Alma Reville.PT2M33S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-2be72 620 349 December 14, 2012
(M, 99 minutes.)
Opens January 10
The Master of Suspense may have been notorious for his obsession with leading ladies, but what of the relationship with his long-suffering wife and collaborator, Alma Reville?
Such is the premise for this welcome, but uneven, biopic of Britain's greatest director: a man born into a modest, barrow-boy existence in London's East End only to rise as a creative force through both silent and early talkies - an impressive feat in itself - before Hollywood beckoned with the onset of war in 1939.
The Hitchcock we are presented with here, though, is an ageing parody, seemingly consigned to lucrative but lesser-renowned contracts on television. Haunted by the critical and commercial failure of the now-classic Vertigo, a radical move is seemingly needed as the 1960s approach, with Hitch himself glumly turning 60.
Director Sacha Gervasi - who deservedly scored plaudits for his warm-hearted tale of mateship, the offbeat music doc Anvil! - pitches this as a love story, mining a similar vein to Simon Curtis' My Week with Marilyn, with a strangely underwhelming telemovie aesthetic in tow.
Much of what we see of Alfred Hitchcock (an awkwardly made-up Anthony Hopkins) feels fantastical. There's the blatantly illusory sparring with grim necrophiliac Ed Gein (Michael Wincott), a figure who helped form the basis for Hitchcock's timeless Psycho. Flashes of binge-eating are thrown in to ham-fistedly explain his lifelong obesity. An apparently erratic charm that both wooed and deterred his blonde stars is also, rather more gently, tipped into the mix, for completion's sake.
Yet at no point do we learn much about Hitchcock the man, nor his wife, Alma. Even the making of Psycho feels rudimentary, particularly the shoot itself. It's suggested that star Janet Leigh (Scarlett Johansson) could better handle Hitch than Tippi Hedren ever could, but even Johansson's traffic-stopping entrance feels oddly deflating. One almost forgets the man's longing for leggy bombshells, save for Alma (Helen Mirren) admonishing him for his delusions, after some flirting of her own with a rival writer.
Coincidentally, The Girl - a BBC-HBO biopic focusing on Hitchcock's apparently twisted lust for Tippi Hedren - is also expected on our shores soon, but it tells a radically different tale of the man's state of mind. It has so far, rather surprisingly, been greeted with howls of protest from his former ladies, who claim to have nothing but the greatest admiration for a man who almost single-handedly changed the face of cinema with a wickedly mischievous style that teased audiences with detail while suitably scaring the bejesus out of them.
Gervasi's take on Hitchcock paints him as a lonely but loveable little boy of a man whose impulsive actions are more than often kept in check by his wife. To some extent, her role in his life and success has been lesser known but, as with this sanitised portrayal of the man, it is disappointingly relayed here in a rather flat, almost lifeless, fashion. For those who saw Anvil!, this will seem almost incomprehensible. Perhaps Gervasi's towering cast simply proved too much.
Hitchcock does have its moments. Studio chiefs and Hollywood agents pop up here and there to nice effect. The backlot of Paramount Pictures circa 1960 is also vividly brought back to life. The casting of Danny Huston as the conniving writer Whitfield Cook is a nice touch, as is James D'Arcy's brief turn as an all-too believable stand-in for Anthony Perkins' Norman Bates. However, Toni Collette is disappointingly wasted as Hitch's PA, and Johansson and Jessica Biel are also both underutilised.
This is a biopic about a man whose self-loathing often threatened to get the better of him. Ultimately, then, Hitchcock the man feels best left where he himself enjoyed being most: behind the camera. His native country has been at pains in recent times to remind audiences of his early, Britain-based works, via the British Film Institute's extensive restoration campaign, which feels of far greater value, given that many only know of the man through his studio successes in later life.
A career-spanning biopic of the man, including the period during which he jumped ship from Britain to the US only to belatedly return, his best work behind him, might have worked better. But I'd venture that Hitch, as he was fondly known, would rather we simply focus on the work itself. After all, if the Master of Suspense proves less than thrilling when away from the camera, why bother emphasising the fact on screen?