After the huge success of North By Northwest, director, Alfred Hitchcock, finds himself stuck for his next project. With the case of the serial killer Ed Gein still fresh in the public consciousness and new book, Psycho, making waves, Hitch thinks he can make a classier brand of horror film. The studios don’t agree, so he must re-mortgage his house to fund the film independently, which combined with his mild obsessions with his leading ladies, causes friction with his wife and collaborator, Alma Reville.
The biopic is a long-standing tradition in cinema but more often than not the end results can be sketchy, sporadic and overly long, not to mention unfocused. These issues haven’t gone entirely unnoticed however, because slowly but surely, over the last decade, there’s been a stream of ‘biopics’ that focus on specific events in the lives of the well known.
One could argue that these films aren’t biopics at all but a new subgenre; dramatised chunks of lives. I’ll leave it to a smarter person to create a buzzword to encapsulate the proposed subgenre but better examples include both Truman Capote films (In Cold Blood, Capote), Clint Eastwood’s Invictus and, happily enough, the new release Hitchcock.
From the outset it is clear that you are in for a little more than you bargained for, presentation wise, when the film opens on one of the first murders of Ed Gein, which is then framed off like an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, with the approach to storytelling keeping an interesting edge as Hitch’s darker impulses are voiced by the ever present visage of Gein, who Hitch freely communicates with.
The story of the making of Psycho in itself is actually a pretty interesting one, and mixed with the various idiosyncrasies of Hitchcock’s working practices and private affairs along with his singular life perspective, makes for a entertaining ride.
All this though doesn’t fully push the production from the precipice of the realms of the TV movie, what DOES is the inclusion of what can only be described as a stellar cast. Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren share about equal screen time as Mr and Mrs Hitchcock. Mirren does her usual bang-up job of adding a sympathetic edge to a character that would otherwise seem too infallible, but Hopkins is well and truly the star of the show. Aided and abetted by some excellent prosthetics, Hopkins once again reminds us that beyond that largeness of character, or if you’re being less kind, hamminess, he’s sometimes called upon to portray in such turns as Hannibal Lecter, Odin and whoever he was in Wolfman, he’s actually a fantastic impressionist and nuanced actor.
The rest of the cast includes Scarlett Johansson, Toni Collette, Danny Huston, Jessica Biel and Michael Wincott, who are all uniformly excellent. And needless to say with this type of film, but the period details are all right on the mark too.
If the drama is rather ‘light’, Hitchcock is an otherwise interesting and entertaining flick that keeps its running time to a pacey ninety minutes and its narrative stylised while being chock full fine performances. Word of warning though, DO NOT watch if you haven’t seen Psycho, it gives far too much away and could ruin the undisputed classic… Shame on you if you haven’t seen Psycho.
B+ grade – for storytelling
A grade – for acting
B grade – for visuals
Overall grade – B+