Hitchcock Review (Kirk Haviland)

Hitchcock (2012)

Starring Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Scarlett Johansson, Danny Huston, Toni Collette, James D’Arcy, Jessica Biel and Michael Wincott

Written by John J. McLaughlin based on the book “Alfred Hitchcock and the making of Psycho” by Stephen Rebello

Directed by Sacha Gervasi

New this week in theaters, opening exclusively at the Varsity in Toronto and expanding nation-wide in the weeks to come, from Fox Searchlight comes Hitchcock. The biopic about the master of suspense himself Alfred Hitchcock, despite the inference of title, is not a story of the man and his life, but the shooting of his seminal film Psycho and his relationship with his wife and most trusted collaborator Alma Reville.

Hitchcock starts at the premiere for Alfred Hitchcock’s (Hopkins) North by Northwest. With the media convinced that the director’s best days are behind him, Alfred sets his wife Alma (Mirren) and assistant Peggy (Collette) on the lookout for his next project. Hoping to get his script in contention Whitfield Cook (Huston) shows up and starts sweet talking his former flame Alma. Meanwhile Hitch becomes enamored with the new book based on the real story of serial killer Ed Gein (Wincott), who Hitch sees as a manifestation during the filming, entitled Psycho. Against the wishes of the studio, his wife and everybody else, Hitchcock embarks on adapting the story and getting it committed to film. But the studio, his health, his former starlet Vera Miles (Biel) and current starlet Janet Leigh (Johansson) may all conspire to get in the way. And Whitfield may have other plans for Alma.

Hitchcock is far from an in depth, hard hitting biopic, but almost immediately the audience realizes they are in for a more whimsical and light hearted treatment. Hopkins is memorable as Hitchcock, like his Nixon he does not completely disappear physically into the role, but uses his performance to allow the audience to buy into the character. That said it’s Mirren and her portrayal of Alma that steals the show. Her Alma is a confident and strong woman who is long overdue for her room in the spotlight after all the work she has done in her husband’s career, and sensing this Huston’s Whitfield attempts to take advantage. The rest of the supporting cast is quite good here, with Johansson doing some excellent work as Leigh and Biel possibly doing here best work in ages as Vera Miles. The decision of including Ed Gein as a character in the film is far-fetched and would have been terribly out of place if the performance by Wincott wasn’t so accomplished. His Gein makes you yearn for a biopic of his own on the serial killer.

The script plays it light in tone and strives more for comedic beats rather than hard hitting, dramatic interpretations. More “My Week with Marilyn” than a straight biopic, Hitchcock only serves to explain and enact the period in 1959/1960 surrounding the filming of Psycho and not much else. The characters are fleshed out well here, though the script does manage to stay close to the surface throughout, not delving too deeply into any of the relationships besides Hitch and Alma’s. And other characters, like the studio head for example, are more caricatures than characters. The film would be better suited with a title that exudes this whimsy and tone rather than the more serious sounding Hitchcock.

Kudos must be given however to the team behind the film as the set design and decoration, costuming and cinematography are all fantastic. The film looks phenomenal and provides an exceptional peek into the work of producing a feature film in the late 1959 studio system. From the small housing offices for the production and the soundstages to the vintage vehicles and decor of the Hitchcock home, the film doesn’t miss a beat. The film will not surprise me at all if Oscar comes calling in February rewarding the fine work here with some technical nominations.

Audiences going into this film expecting a warts and all telling of Hitchcock’s life and loves will be disappointed with this effort. But audiences willing to go with the tone and playfulness of the film and really invest in the performances, especially Hopkins, Mirren and Wincott, will be satisfied with the effort. Despite its flaws, Hitchcock is indeed a recommend.

Till Next Time,

Movie Junkie TO

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Hitchcock Spins a Murderous Yarn for Audiences at the TIFF Bell Lightbox

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Most of us have had moments when we think we are fairly unique; the main character of life’s story if you will. I was having one of these moments on Friday night when I approached the TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto for a screening of Hitchcock’s classic Dial M for Murder. Surely I would be one of only a handful of cinephiles out on Friday night to catch a movie that is over 50 years old. This attitude was largely responsible for the shock I experienced when I had to scramble to find a seat. The screening must of have been sold out! Perhaps more surprising to me was the variety of people in the audience. Couples were on dates, a mother and her two teenage daughters laughed and gabbed as they found some front row seats, small packs of university students congregated at the back, and an elderly woman asked me to save her a seat in case her expedition towards the centre of the row proved fruitless. The audience was devoid of pretension and snobbery, these people were here to be entertained, and I realized, as I shed my own pretensions, so was I.

I should mention that the TIFF Bell Lightbox is an amazing movie theatre. The seats are spacious and comfortable, while the cup-holders are ingenious, as they are in front of and below the armrest and completely out of the way, while still easily accessible. Also, the four screenings that I have seen have started promptly, without commercials or previews; kind of a nice change of pace considering that previews are easily accessible online these days.

Dial M for Murder went off without a Hitch, if you don’t count its director. Grace Kelly was still beautiful as the delicate Margot Wendice, Ray Milland has retained his charismatically cloaked deviousness as Tony Wendice, who is in the market for a murdered wife, and my second time watching the film has given me a huge appreciation for the very humorous performance by John Williams as the infallible Chief Inspector Hubbard.

The strengths of Dial M for the Murder, and the reasons why it is a classic, are the strong performances by the cast, the intelligent screenplay from Frederick Knott (based on his play of the same name), and of course, the Master of Suspense behind the camera. Rarely do plays adapted for the screen work as well as this one. The quality of Dial M for Murder is in the same league as Sleuth (1972), which is high praise from me considering Sleuth is by far my favourite film of all-time.

I have trouble expressing how wonderful and fortunate Torontonians are to have a theatre like the Lightbox that is willing to screen Hitchcock classics, on actual film no less. If you grew up with Hitchcock films and want to feel nostalgic, or if you’re younger and are feeling adventurous, I urge you to get down to the Lightbox in November or December as there are some amazing Hitchock screenings ahead of us. Let the Master of Suspense show you how the old-school use to do it, before the Hollywood thriller became formulaic. Do not miss this opportunity!

Tickets here.

Show times are listed below:

The 39 Steps (One of the grandfathers of the modern thriller. Do not miss!)

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Sunday, November 27 @ 7:00pm

The Birds (‘The Birds’ is coming!)

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Tuesday, December 6 @ 9:00pm

Family Plot

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Thursday, December 1 @ 9:15pm

Sunday, December 11 @ 6:30pm

The Man Who Knew Too Much

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Saturday, November 26 @ 5:00pm

Sunday, December 4 @ 4:00pm

Marnie

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Saturday, November 26 @ 8:00pm

Sunday, December 4 @ 6:45pm

North by Northwest (An adventure epic!)

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Saturday, December 3 @ 6:00pm

Thursday, December 8 @ 6:30pm

Psycho

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Saturday, November 19 @ 5:00pm

Rear Window (Great performances by Stewart and Kelly, and a story that has been emulated more times than you can count)

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Thursday, November 10 @ 9:00pm

Sunday, November 13 @ 5:00pm

Sunday, November 20 @ 7:00pm

To Catch a Thief

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Saturday, November 12 @ 5:00pm

Sunday, November 27 @ 4:00pm

Saturday, December 31 @ 5:00pm

Vertigo

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Thursday, December 1 @ 6:30pm

Saturday, December 10 @ 5:00pm

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