By Chris Robinson on 12/20/2012
If you like vanilla ice cream then you will probably like Hitchcock. Some films are ambitious projects seeking to convey deep truths about the human condition, or to dazzlingly broaden the limits of our imagination. Such projects are often doomed to be perceived as either resounding successes (see Lincoln) or, as is unfortunately more often the case, resounding failures (see J. Edgar). Other films are small, quiet productions that set out to accomplish relatively little, and do a relatively good job of it. Hitchcock is one of those films.
Rating/Runtime: PG-13/98 min.
Dingo Dictum: C+
The story in question begins with iconic British director Alfred Hitchcock (“Hitch”) looking for his next project. Having just made North by Northwest, a spectacular hit, for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, rival studio Paramount is petitioning him for similarly crowd-pleasing fare. But the auteur has other ideas, deciding – against everyone’s better judgment – to make a horror film based on a new novel called “Psycho.” We know the ending: Psycho was one of Hitchcock’s most successful films, both critically and commercially. But it is the journey through studio opposition (Paramount refuses to fund the film, so Hitch mortgages his home to come up with the production budget), personal doubt (Psycho’s main character Ed Gein, a real-life psychopath and serial killer, trails Hitch throughout the film, exposing his flagging self-confidence) and marital discord (his 33-year marriage to Alma Reville is in danger of fizzing out) that the film really concerns itself with.
All told, the movie does an adequate job of guiding the viewer through all the different story lines, and the two leads, Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren, both perform as capably and convincingly as you would expect (despite Hopkins looking nothing like Alfred himself, fat suit be damned). But despite their best individual efforts, and an admirable turn from Scarlett Johansson as Janet Leigh, the film occasionally flags: minor marital disagreements (and unspoken ones at that) rarely make for vibrant theater. Essentially the film is a love story – how Alfred and Alma rekindled their affections … but the conflicts they face never seem particularly meaningful, and even a script chock full of British wit can’t make up for a lack of on-screen chemistry between the make-believe couple. Perhaps their marriage really was as matter-of-fact and devoid of passion as it is portrayed here, but the words “devoid of passion” have never been used to describe great films. Perhaps for some viewers it is the chance to take a voyeuristic glimpse inside the private life of one of the world’s most celebrated filmmakers that constitutes the main drawing point, but here too lies disappointment, as a lack of truly insightful retrospection keeps the “picture” from making a really significant contribution as an historical piece.
Overall the film is reasonably well written, acted, and directed. It just isn’t very compelling. Δ