Genre: Drama, Biography
Directed by: Sacha Gervasi
Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Scarlett Johansson
Ed Gein’s Farmhouse, 1944. Two brothers are digging amongst smouldering debris, talking about moving on from the family and finally leaving their mother behind. The camera tightens the frame around one of the men and THUD! A shovel is planted into the back of his skull. His emotionless brother steps over him as the camera stops on another man at the scene – the instantly recognisable Alfred Hitchcock. Mr Hitchcock, cup of tea in hand, turns to the camera and asks us if we ever saw that coming. He then informs us that this man got away with murder that day, telling the police that his brother fell and hit his head on a rock, something they believed. Hitch hints that this was his inspiration and from there we’re sprung forward to the premiere of Hitchcock’s hit film North by Northwest, where upon signing autographs he’s approached by a reporter who asks the question – is Hitchcock too old to continue making such good films? Hitch simply stares at him, a look that says ‘is that what you believe old boy? I’ll show you’.
Whilst I’m aware that Alfred Hitchcock would hold a cup of tea and look into the camera whilst making his television series Alfred Hitchcock Presents, I didn’t think this was a great opening to the film. I wasn’t here to see a film that was self aware, I was here to see a film about the Master of Suspense, possibly the greatest and most famous film director of Hollywood’s history. Instead what we get is an opening dedicated to his achievements, which doesn’t share the tone of any of his films. This man was known for bringing tense scenes of violence, spy thrillers full of intrigue and mystery, and films that are still being mimicked in new releases today. I didn’t need to know the details of his inspiration; I wanted to see the troubles he had with making a film that everybody claimed was far too violent to be made.
After North by Northwest Hitch becomes irritable. He wants to find his next movie, the one that will prove to the world that he’s still capable of producing some fine films. His wife Alma attempts to help, suggesting a book written by her friend Whitfield Cook. Hitch however isn’t interested and continues in search of something else, ultimately landing on the book Psycho, the story of Ed Gein’s murderous, cross dressing relationship with his dead mother. He pitches the book to friends and colleagues but continually receives unfavourable feedback. His agent isn’t happy about supporting it and Paramount Pictures refuse to back it because they believe that Hitch’s final picture with them should be in the same mould as North by Northwest.
Paramount’s refusal to fund the film doesn’t stop Hitch and he agrees to fund the film himself by mortgaging his house, much to the disbelief of Alma. He strikes a deal with Paramount, which means they only have to distribute and he hires a writer. The production swings into action but Hitch begins to see visions of Ed Gein, visions that begin haunting him in his sleep. Is his subconscious telling him something? Hitch’s insecurities become more noted as he starts to suspect his wife of having an affair and his work begins to suffer because of it.
It’s hard to really grasp what the main narrative drive of this story really is. Some believe it surrounds the making of Psycho but I think it’s actually about his relationship with Alma. Too much time is spent with moments of hallucinations and potential adultery, instead of really focusing on how he managed to get his film off the ground. The hallucinations fail to have any connection to the plot.
It’s also difficult to understand who we should be rooting for. Hitchcock’s name is the title but the spotlight seems to shine on Alma. She was his rock and, if anything, Hitch caused the mounting trouble in their relationship. Why make a film about the greatest director of Hollywood’s history and base it on his wife? Hitch fans will want to learn who he was, not who his spouse was.
The problem with Hitchcock is the writing and directing. Both fail to establish the key scenes that audience members may be more interested in, such as the infamous shower scene. Hitch had to do a lot to get the film into cinemas by bringing out a unique advertising campaign that involved instructions to theatre managers and important notices – this interesting story was unfortunately brushed over, as were many other fascinating segments of Hitch’s life.
Anthony Hopkins is unrecognisable as Hitchcock, but it’s painfully obvious that he’s wearing a fat suit and the make up at times is jarring. Look at Toby Jones in The Girl for a better interpretation of the famous director. Jones looks less the part but acts so much better without the body prosthetics. Helen Mirren was completely miscast as Alma Reville. She wasn’t bad, though certainly not Oscar worthy. In reality, Alma was a rather plain woman who you could understand would be devastated by her husband leering at his leading blondes, highlighting her insecurity issues. Mirren, however, looks so glamorous that you can’t believe she’d ever marry this portly man.
This film created an image of Hitchcock that made him seem incompetent and this is not the image fans of his work will want to see. It makes you wonder why they bothered to make the film in the first place.