There’s always something special about a biopic studying a filmmaker. There’s an urge to mimic their style. Pay homage to their craft while inviting us to hold sympathy for them. Ed Wood and The Aviator both did this to great success.

Hitchcock mines the same vein and begins with the familiar chords of Alfred Hitchcock’s hour-long show and a striking murder. The camera pans over to a portly Hitchcock as he observes and it’s whimsical while still morose. Something director of The Trouble With Harry might approve of.

But the film this intro leads us into is far too slight for the Master of Suspense. It apes his style without truly grasping it, leading to an airy film with smatterings of scandal entirely concocted by an ambitious screenplay and Sacha Gervasi’s workman-like direction.

Airy isn’t necessarily bad. Hitchcock himself could make a light and frivolous film.

It’s the fabricated scandal that pulls the film down. The direction is adequate and the performances are what you’d expect from a bevy of the best actors working today. But the scandal…See Hitchcock is obsessed with Ed Gein and even converses with him throughout the film, and he’s also obsessed with his wife’s potential affair with a middling screenwriter. It’s a load of drama to make the film more interesting and give Anthony Hopkins some nice scenes for his acting reel.

And it’s all entirely unnecessary. The framing device of the Alfred Hitchcock Show and the story of the making of Psycho are more than enough. Especially because the core of the film, as in real life, is Hitchcock’s relationship with his wife, Alma Reville.

Alma Reville is almost never discussed outside of the Hitchcock fan clubs. The woman behind the man may be one of the most influential people to ever work in film and never be discussed. She had unofficial final say on everything Hitchcock did. Scripts weren’t approved unless Reville approved them, Hitchcock didn’t release his films to the studio until Reville had watched them, and even in polite company he deferred to his wife’s opinion.

Yet outside of their inner circle people had no idea she existed. And she was a former film editor who gave it up to raise their child while Hitchcock worked. That drama of her wrestling with work versus home life and her husband’s explosive career and even his obsession with his leading ladies, that’s the fascinating part of the film and perhaps of their story in general.

But John McLaughlin’s lurid script is reluctant to trust Reville’s emotional crises alone. He has to add an affair and Ed Gein and sensationalized and outright fabricated instances to the make of Psycho to tell the story.

It’s a bit ironic really. To not trust the story of a woman who worries her life will perpetually be in the shadow of her husband. It, and that horrific makeup Hopkin’s is saddled with, keeps the film from being great. No matter how good Helen Mirren or Scarlett Johansson or Toni Collette may be (and those three are easily the best part of the film) none of them can circumvent McLaughlin’s laborious attempt at sensationalizing an already sensational story.

The Master of Suspense would not be amused.

Notes

  • Hopkin’s make up is alarmingly bad and distracting. You can see seams in some scenes and his real skin glistens with sweat as his jowls stay pillowy soft and dry.
  • Collette plays Hitchcock’s assistant, Peggy Robertson. After Reville her contribution was perhaps the most significant and unsung.
  • There’s an interesting note the film never explores concerning Hitchcock’s love and yet disdain for very smart women. He surrounds himself with them and relies on them, but the Hollywood glamorous ones are quickly cast aside if they’re revealed to be as smart and willful as his wife or assistant.
  • Johansson’s Janet Leigh is one of the best parts of the movie. She’s an absolute saint that is neither scandalized or delighted by Hitchcock. She’s there to work and avoid his drama.
  • There’s a standout moment late in the film for Reville that shows how strong and capable she is and it absolutely NEVER happened in reality. For some reason that really bothers me. That they had to build her a moment. It does a real disservice to the contributions she actually made.
  • Despite my disdain for the whole film and its bevy of inaccuracies the audience I was with LOVED it. They had also never actually seen a Hitchcock film. Make of that what you will.
  • http://www.facebook.com/dfullam David Fullam

    Why can’t FX men do good, simple character make ups anymore?