[Review] - Hitchcock

Courtesy of The Montecito Picture Company
There is always that line that must be walked when making a film about a historical figure, the line between mimicry and embodiment. Is it of benefit to the film to make certain that the actors look and sound exactly like those they are playing, or is it enough that they manage to inhabit the character's motivations. Philosophically, it's the question of what makes a person a person. Too often, the attention to too concentrated on getting the look right, and the script (and actors) miss the mark on the characterisation. Alternatively, if little attention is paid to appearance, it can alienate the viewer.

Hitchcock takes both paths with it's principle characters. And despite it's categorisation as a bio-pic, the focus is less on Hitchcock's history as it is on his methods. The only thing it really bio-pics is Psycho.

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers that were very close to their mother in their youth.

Immediately, the film won me over, structuring the story as if it were an episode of Alfred Hithcock Presents, complete with overture, and a ticklish sense of humour that never abides. That sense of humour keeps the film form getting too dour, or down on itself, as HBO's The Girl did previously. The film is laid out much like Hitchcock's presented method, and attitude. When he is bored, the film saunters, when he is inspired, the film frolics. And when it all threatens to come crashing down, the film becomes focused and sombre.

Hitchcock himself was trickster, and I'm glad to see that side of his personality preserved here. However, he was also a notorious letch, never going so far as to have affairs, but certainly existing on the domineering, inappropriately aggressive end of things. My chief worry, as this was the characterisation that The Girl entirely existed in, that this film, with it's lightheartedness, might skip it over. My fears were for not, and even managed to present his lecherous ways in a sympathetic light, the eternal and isolating struggle to achieve perfection, to the detriment of all else. It never excused what he did, but simply attempted to explain why.

The story is that of Psycho, and rather interestingly, the film occasionally splits, and contains a mini bio-pic of Ed Gein, the serial killer who inspired Norman Bates, and later the Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Silence of the Lambs. The film presents the Gein murders in the context of Hitchock's mental state, with Gein and Hitch becoming imaginary friends. As the pressures and pitfalls of Hitchcock's life unfold, so does the brutality of Gein's acts. And as strange as it may seem, the juxtaposition of Hitch's relationships, with his wife, with the studio head, with his leading ladies, often finds a counter point in Gein's disturbia.

The acting is top notch, as you might expect from a film that includes such a high profile cast. And for the most part, the mimicry is focus on Anthony Hopkins as Hitch, a portrayal that takes some time to get used to. The makeup makes him look enough like Hitch without ever completely looking like Hitch, an uncanny valley effect that can dog the viewer. In the same way, he sounds enough like Hitch, and Hopkins, that I was never completely sold. He had the patterns down, but far too much of his natural Welsh tones fall into the speech to make it a completely successful impression.

Winner of the mimicry award goes to James D'Arcy, who completely inhabits Anthony Perkins' Norman Bates, I thought for certain some digital trickery was involved. He has it from scene one. Voice, body language, speech patterns, all of it bang on. On the other end of the spectrum, aside from the period swag, sits Helen Mirren, who gets to tackle the dramatic weight of the film as Hitch's under appreciated wife Alma. There is no mimicry there, it's just her, and the character, giving it her all. The same is true for Scarlett Johansson, who does little to be Janet Leigh, and simply plays the part.

There is a nagging feeling though, that it is a half full picture. The search for material, and the effort to get the movie made is given a lot of dramatic weight, but the strain of actually making the film (including one odd sojourn where Hitch is waylaid by illness) is largely glossed over. And for all the conflict between Hitch and Alma, and Hitch and his actors, and Hitch and the studio, the resolutions tend to come quick and easy. I often say it is difficult to appreciate a story based on real events because the events have to happen in the same order, because that's what happened, which divorces them slightly from the effects of the characters. However, it is an enjoyable film, for what it is, and while certainly never meant to be the great Goliath that a film like Lincoln is, it accepts itself, and has fun a long the way, and I'd rather watch a film with that attitude then a sombre grief-fest any day.
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.


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