Friday, December 7, 2012
Day 172: Hitchcock
"You must be careful for a man is always capable of murder."
It's strange to think that in the thirty odd years since his passing, master of suspense Alfred Hitchcock had never had a movie made about his life; Yet in 2012, we have been greeted with two films. The first was the HBO Original film The Girl with Toby Jones & now we have the big screen treatment, Hitchcock, featuring Anthony Hopkins as the man himself. So, does the film that bears his name do him any justice?
The answer is a resounding and stultifying no. Hitchcock may be the most misguided, reductive, nonsensical attempt to boil down the essence of so great a figure in the history of film as has ever been made. The film focuses on Hitchcock's attempt to make a film out of Robert Bloch's novella Psycho, a film widely and rightly regarded as one of the best suspense thrillers/horror movies of all time (by no less a source than yours truly). There's probably an interesting film that could have been made out his working life and an equally interesting film made about his personal life, but the way the two are so absurdly thrown together in this film makes both sides of the man's life seem as ridiculous as anything that's ever been put on film.
By seeking to find parallels to both the struggles that Hitchcock faced at home and at work, the film ends up pandering to and insulting the audience's intelligence. You could almost call out what was going to happen ahead of time when a scene began because it had been projected five minutes earlier. The most stupefying decision of all, however, was the choice to have Hitchcock periodically communicate with serial killer Ed Gein (who was the main inspiration for the character of Norman Bates) in a series of dream sequences/therapy sessions that reduced the director's tumultuous inner life down to a bout of paranoid schizophrenia.
In seeking to continuously & nonsensically draw parallels between Hitch's life & his trouble getting Psycho made, the film goes to increasingly absurd lengths to keep both sides of the story ever present in your mind. The dialogue is so reductive and pithy that it can't help but feel like the Cliffs Notes version of the real events. In fact, it's hard to believe that the script was written by John McLaughlin who wrote one of my favorite movies of the last decade Black Swan. This feels like a giant step backward, toward the more obvious & the more mundane rather than retaining that experimental edge that he had on that earlier film.
Director Sacha Gervasi directed one of my favorite documentaries of all time, Anvil: The Story of Anvil, and for his feature fiction debut, to call it anything but pedestrian would be to pay it too much of a compliment. I can understand avoiding comparisons to Hitchcock's work, but to steer clear of any of the cinematic tropes that he defined is mind-numbing to me. If this film had a better script and been directed by a true Hitchcock disciple like Brian DePalma, I can only imagine how great it could have been. And yes, I do realize that I essentially just said that with a different director and a different script this could have been a good movie.
You can never be entirely sure which Anthony Hopkins is going to show up in a film nowadays. Sometimes his over-zealousness is used to great effect (Thor) and other times to unintentionally comedic effect (The Wolfman). Thankfully he's very reserved and doesn't show-off much in the role of one of the icons of cinema. He underplays virtually everything, and reigned himself in nicely, although he's never fully successful at disappearing into the role. You're always aware that you're watching Anthony Hopkins.
The rest of the cast is reduced to more or less caricature, only on screen to serve a purpose that drives the story forward. The wonderful Helen Mirren is most sadly underused as Hitch's wife Alma. She's given too much of an air of mystery that the audience can't fully connect to and relate with her. I truly wanted to see her side of the various arguments she has with her husband, but the film kept her increasingly distant. James D'Arcy was good in the one or two scenes he had as Anthony Perkins, and Scarlett Johannson & Jessica Biel were thoroughly interchangable as Janet Leigh & Vera Miles respectively. Also, keep your eyes peeled for a cameo from Danny Larusso himself, Ralph Macchio.
Just a few weeks ago, Steven Spielberg boiled down the essence of Abraham Lincoln's life into a period of a few months to show us his life in microcosm. It worked to some extent, but it certainly worked a hell of a lot better than the filmmakers here who tried to do the same thing. Hitchcock fans will get a kick out of some of the references to his films and the macabre humor that's fused into the first forty-five minutes of the movie, but by the time you're watching Anthony Hopkins standing in a theater lobby slashing madly at the air while an audience is watching Psycho for the first time, you'll wonder what in god's name anyone involved with this film was thinking. I only wish I had an answer.
GO Rating: 1/5
[Photos via BoxOfficeMojo]