One of the worst mistakes you can make before writing a film review is to read someone else’s review for that movie. One of two things happen, usually; you either find yourself going over the top in justifying your review (good or bad), or you will end up reading a line that you like, and whether knowingly or no, steal that line in some way for your own piece.
That being said, I was flipping through the Indy the other day and saw David Fellerath’s review for Hitchcock, the new biopic on the legendary director. I stopped myself from reading it in an effort not to be influenced by it, but I was shocked to see that he had given the film one star out of four. One star? That’s the kind of grade you give to the sixth installment of a Dreamworks animated franchise!
So I find myself in the position of defending and championing this film. It’s not the greatest flick of the season, and Lord knows I had my issues with it as well, but while watching it I couldn’t help but think that this is the best option for those that find themselves dragged to the cinema with parents and grandparents, as it truly has something for everyone.
Hitchcock follows the auteur through the making of Psycho. Coming off of the critical and financial success that was North by Northwest, Hitch (Anthony Hopkins) finds himself at a crossroads, being both unable to find any scripts that peak his interest, and being offered nothing from the studios but Anne Frank bios or more spy flicks. While complaining to his personal secretary Peggy (Toni Collette), she mentions that every studio in town has turned down the opportunity to adapt a book detailing the Ed Gein case entitled Psycho. Hitchcock immediately takes up the story as a personal challenge.
While this is going on, we are also given a glimpse of his home life with his wife, Alma Reville (Helen Mirren). Alma is a renowned writer and editor, who since marrying Hitch has become accustomed to a life in the man’s shadow. The two have been together for decades now, and as with most marriages found on the big screen, they now spend most of their time trading barbs and making passive-aggressive gestures toward one another.
Alma fills this void in her life by assisting her friend Whitfield Cook (Danny Huston) with his latest attempt at catching Hitch’s eye with a story worth adapting for a film.
Hitchcock is far from perfect, but I found it to be an enjoyable night at the movies. Hopkins somehow overcomes the burden of wearing one of the worst makeup jobs I have seen since the days of direct-to-VHS to show us the tormented man who helmed Vertigo. A man overcome with sexual issues, seemingly falling in love with every actress lucky enough to star in one of his classics, we are not given a hero to root for in this depiction; instead we are given a character that has personal problems that make him seem like an actual human being.
The supporting cast is one of the biggest handicaps the film has going for it. Mirren does a fine job as Alma; not great, but fine. It is basically your standard Mirren performance, which will be overpraised but hard to criticize. The other two major female roles to be found here, however…woof! Scarlett Johansson stars as Janet Leigh, the star of Psycho and the latest blonde to find herself the object of Hitchcock’s passions. Johansson seems to believe she will do fine just by smiling continuously and speaking in a haughty dialect.
That, however, is light years better than Jessica Biel’s depiction of Vera Miles, a former Hitchcock star brought onto Psycho in a supporting role as a means of completing the terms of her contract. The fun other actresses could have had with this role, playing an actress in an adversarial relationship with a legendary auteur. Instead Biel merely acts as a cipher, grinning in her few scenes and playing the character as if she were just a wall for others to bounce lines off of.
As mentioned above, if you find yourself surrounded by older relatives over the next few weeks and feel the need to entertain them outside of the house for a couple of hours, you can definitely do worse than Hitchcock. It’s a light 90 minutes or so, with scenes that will delight those of all ages. Or you can catch Lincoln, because who hasn’t been waiting for War Horse 2?