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With: Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Scarlett Johansson, Danny Huston, Toni Collette, Michael Stuhlbarg, Michael Wincott, Jessica Biel, James D'Arcy, Richard Portnow, Kurtwood Smith, Ralph Macchio, Kai Lennox, Tara Summers, Wallace Langham
Written by: John J. McLaughlin, based on the book by Stephen Rebello
Directed by: Sacha Gervasi
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some violent images, sexual content and thematic material
Running Time: 98
Date: 11/01/2012

Hitchcock (2012)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Bates and Hitch

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Alfred Hitchcock is something of an icon in the film world. He's one of the most popular and greatest filmmakers of all time. Additionally, he was a celebrity, easily recognized from his television show "Alfred Hitchcock Presents," from his little cameo appearances in his films, and from his humorous film trailers. So making a film about him is a dubious proposition.

The new film Hitchcock deals with only a short period of time in the Master's life, the making of one particular film: Psycho (1960).

And right away, many audience members are going to look at Anthony Hopkins in his heavy makeup, doing a reasonable impersonation of Hitch, but still sounding a tiny bit like Hopkins, and think: that's not right.

But let's look at what the film does do, rather than what it doesn't do. Hopkins does here what he did in Nixon (1995); he suggests the main character, rather than becoming him. And before long, the suggestion sticks, and we go with it.

Hitchcock begins with a fact that many movie fans may not have realized, and indeed I only realized it when I started considering Hitchcock's films in chronological order. Psycho was made when he was sixty, just after North by Northwest. North by Northwest was a luxurious Hollywood movie, shot in many locations, with big stars, in full color, with fabulous set pieces. It was a hit, too. The director could easily have rested on his laurels and continued in this comfortable vein. And most directors would have. But Hitchcock did not want to.

He wanted to do something different. He found Robert Bloch's novel Psycho and filmed it with a small crew -- his television crew -- in black-and-white, for a relatively low budget, with slightly less than "A" list stars.

What I did not know is that Paramount refused to fund the movie, so Hitchcock put up the money himself. That's an interesting factoid, but Hitchcock continues to move into unsullied territory. It focuses on Hitch's relationship with Alma Reville (Helen Mirren), with whom he had worked since 1923 and who had been his wife since 1926. Not many movie fans know just how much influence she had over his career. According to Hitchcock, she had input on the script, the casting, most of the pre-production, and a good deal of the post-production. In one scene, she and Hitch fight over whether or not to use music during the infamous shower scene. Alma won, and the scene -- with its screechy violin music -- is now the stuff of legend.

In Hitchcock, Alma begins to feel unappreciated, and indeed the stress of this particular production is a bit higher than usual. She receives some attention from a writer, Whitfield Cook (Danny Huston), and starts to spend time with him, ostensibly working on his manuscript. This leads to several heated confrontations between husband and wife. It's good, juicy stuff, especially when Alma gets to speak her piece.

Meanwhile, co-star Vera Miles (Jessica Biel) -- the real Vera had already worked with Hitch on The Wrong Man -- thinks Hitch is a monster, and his new leading lady, Janet Leigh (Scarlett Johansson) doesn't quite know what to make of him yet. Hitch, you see, has a kind of voyeuristic sexual fetish and enjoys manipulating his actresses, in their clothes and hair, to his own pleasing. Alma may have had just about enough of this.

Perhaps the weakest part is that Hitch sometimes imagines himself speaking to Ed Gein (Michael Wincott), the real-life killer that supposedly inspired Bloch's novel. These scenes serve to underline Hitch's uncertainty and anxiety in a visual way, but they seem out of place.

But I haven't yet mentioned the best part. The director of this new Hitchcock movie is Sacha Gervasi, the maker of the amazing documentary Anvil! The Story of Anvil. The connection may not be obvious, but it's there: they're both movies about creative collaborators and the tension that occurs, especially between artists with deep, long-standing connections. It's impressive how much Gervasi is able to squeeze into a quick 98 minutes, though of course, at least some of its success depends on prior knowledge of Hitchcock and Psycho.

Gervasi actually builds characters out of Hitchcock and Alma, focusing on a moment in time rather than a movie nerd's paradise of re-creations. Although, in this vein, it should be said that Johansson beautifully captures Janet Leigh's simple, non-showy, girl-next-door essence, and James D'Arcy proves almost a dead ringer for Anthony Perkins (a.k.a. Norman Bates). And, if you want to get really nerdy, Ralph Macchio (The Karate Kid) plays screenwriter Joseph Stefano.

Best of all is that Hitchcock doesn't feel like Oscar bait; it plays more like something Hitchcock himself would have been pleased with; it's an entertainment, first and foremost, with some weight behind it if you care to look. It makes you happy that Hitchcock made movies for us, and it makes you hope that Gervasi keeps doing the same.
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