December 4, 2012

Review: 'Hitchcock' – The Master of Suspense Goes 'Psycho'

Films about real-life filmmaking can be a perilous endeavour. Hitchcock feels more like an HBO original film (not to be confused with The Girl) with an A-list cast rather than a cinematic experience reminiscent of the master of suspense. The glossy 1940s period film covers the period after North by Northwest and through the struggles of making of the horror classic Psycho.

Directed by Sacha Gervasi (Anvil! The Story of Anvil) in his narrative feature debut, Hitchcock embraces some serious soap opera tendencies, playing up the drama of real life events. The film's storyline follows the warm yet tumultuous relationship between the director and closest collaborator, his wife Alma (played by Helen Mirren). While fun and touching to start, this relationship drags on the screen with manufactured tension and an underwhelming and unnecessary love triangle.

Gervasi makes a good effort to define his own filmmaking style while mixing and integrating Hitchcock's own cinematic conventions. It mostly works. Hitchcock mixes the iconic horror elements of Psycho, incorporating its real life inspiration, serial killer Ed Gein, in dream sequences with a glossy flourish. However, the fun and excitement come in the first half as Hitchcock sets off to redefine himself and do new things cinematically with Psycho.

I actually wanted more from the actual production and filmmaking of Psycho being delighted seeing Scarlett Johansson as Janet Leigh, Jessica Biel as Vera Miles, and James D'Arcy as Anthony Perkins. The cast shines, having fun playing homage to old Hollywood. Too bad the picture is bogged down by far too many obstacles in Hitchcock's way. I don't doubt producers, studios, and censors were wary of making Psycho, but knowing film history and the ultimate results, those scenes felt overly dramatic, piling on and on.

Hopkins performance of the famed filmmaker is handcuffed by Hitchcock's legacy, fame, and persona. His performance is admirable and fitting but suffers from our own perception of the director. Hitchcock is light, fun fare with solid performances all around, burdened by a rather predictable story (told well) we already know the ending to.

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