Cinema Review: Hitchcock Ian White February 9, 2013 Movie Reviews 2636 This is something Iâ€™d normally keep to myself but, if you catch me in a bad enough mood, Iâ€™ll argue you can count the number of outstanding movies Alfred Hitchcock made on the fingers of one hand: â€˜Vertigoâ€™ (his masterpiece, by far and away my favourite, and why isnâ€™t it available on blu-ray yet??!!), â€˜Psychoâ€™, â€˜The Birdsâ€™, â€˜North By Northwestâ€™ and â€˜Rear Windowâ€™. Okay, and â€˜Notoriousâ€™.Â Alright, and â€˜The 39 Stepsâ€™ and â€˜Marnieâ€™ and â€˜Frenzyâ€™ and â€˜Ropeâ€™ andâ€¦ okay, two hands. Alfred Hitchock made two hands-worth of outstanding movies. Twenty years ago I would never have admitted that, but twenty years ago I knew a rabid Hitchcock fan who would have happily waterboarded me for dissing any of the Master of Suspenseâ€™s work, but two hands-worth of outstanding movies from a lifetimeâ€™s catalogue of filmmaking is still a remarkable achievement. I know very little about Alfred Hitchcock the man. He was born not very far away from me, although a serious number of years earlier (before you ask), and he had a legendary predilection for stunningly beautiful blonder-than-blonde actresses. Although fortunately, most of the actresses he fetishised were phenomenal talents in their own right. And he probably began the whole â€˜director makes cameo in his own movieâ€™ conceit, that can sometimes drive me to distraction when I catch myself spending more time trying to spot Hitchcock-dressed-as-a-Nun than concentrating on the plot of his film, but at least he didnâ€™t over-egg the â€˜directorâ€™s egoâ€™ pudding like Peter Jackson or, most shamefully and embarrassingly, Quentin Tarantino. Quentin Tarantino should stay behind the camera or, at the very least, step briefly in frame and out again and never speak. Itâ€™s ironic that a man who can write such brilliant dialogue as Tarantino canâ€™t actually perform it. Â But thatâ€™s another grouch for another time. And I think Hitchcock invented the Macguffin (the plot device that ultimately means nothing at all, not the famous Egg Macguffin that only took off when its name was subtly altered by a major fast food chain run by a creepy stripey clown) and his gift for locating on-screen talent wasnâ€™t lost behind the camera either. He knew how to spot (literally)killer material, and snapping up the rights to Robert Blochâ€™s 1959 novel â€˜Psychoâ€™ was probably Hitchâ€™s biggest coup of them all. Youâ€™ll be relieved to know that Iâ€™m finally now going to begin my review of Sacha Gervasiâ€™s â€˜Hitchcockâ€™, the starry new biopic which is based on Stephen Rebelloâ€™s account of the legendary directorâ€™s battle to bring â€˜Psychoâ€™ to the screen. The film has only just opened in the UK and Iâ€™m surprised by the critical flak itâ€™s already attracting because I think several reviewers have missed the point, possibly because they expected much more emphasis on the minutiae of â€˜Psychoâ€™ and werenâ€™t expecting the movie that â€˜Hitchcockâ€™ ultimately is, which I think is a very charmingly told love story. Â Over Christmas, the BBC beat Sacha Gervasi to the chase by airing â€˜The Girlâ€™, a dramatisation of Hitchcockâ€™s obsession with Tippi Hedren and the almost sado-masochistic trials he put the actress through while directing â€˜The Birdsâ€™. Toby Jones played Alfred Hitchcock and a lot of people say it was a fine portrayal, although many argued that the script (biased heavily towards Hedren) bordered on character assassination of the great man. â€˜Hitchcockâ€™ is not character assassination. Compared to â€˜The Girlâ€™, it could be possibly be described as almost frivolously lightweight. But if â€˜The Girlâ€™ hadnâ€™t put the knife in first, I donâ€™t think Gervasiâ€™s film would be receiving the sadly lukewarm reception it certainly doesnâ€™t deserve. True, thereâ€™s probably not too much this movieâ€™s going to teach you about Hitchcock that most of his admirers didnâ€™t already know. Yes, he was a voyeur. Yes, he was temperamental and obsessive and stubbornly single-minded in pursuit of his goal to make the finest horror story ever (up to that point) committed to celluloid, and prove he wasnâ€™t so old that he should have retired on the high-note of â€˜North By Northwestâ€™. Yes, he enjoyed making his long suffering assistant Peggy (beautifully played by Toni Collette) shudder with his bogeyman antics and his penchant for showing off photographs of the grisly Ed Geinâ€™s crime scene (Gein was the notorious serial killer on which â€˜Psychoâ€™ was loosely based, who would go on to inspire Tobe Hooperâ€™s Leatherface and Thomas Harrisâ€™ Jame Gumb). And yes, Hitchcock was a slightly child-like cinematic genius with an occasionally twisted selfish streak and a slightly pathetic â€“ if entirely understandable â€“ little-boy-lost obsession with his unattainable blonde muses. But what â€˜Hitchcockâ€™ (the movieâ€™s) dissenters havenâ€™t taken into account is that this isnâ€™t a film about Alfred Hitchcock. Itâ€™s a film about his wife, Alma Reville. And the collaborative brand called â€˜Hitchcockâ€™ which they painstakingly created together. Back in late 2012, when the first trailers for â€˜Hitchcockâ€™ were released, I thought Anthony Hopkinsâ€™ makeup and fat-suit were too cartoonish to convince and his vocal didnâ€™t sound quite right. It worried me about what was to come. But itâ€™s dangerous to judge a performance out of context and I was absolutely wrong to be concerned. Now Iâ€™ve watched the whole of Hopkinsâ€™ portrayal, Iâ€™m inclined never to see the real Alfred Hitchcock in the same way again. Itâ€™s a skilful and affectionate evocation, less a Hitchcock impersonation than a crafty integration of Hopkins as an actor and our perception, based largely on Alfred Hitchcockâ€™s lampoonish portrayal of himself in his famed â€˜Alfred Hitchcock Presentsâ€™ TV series, of who we fondly remember Hitchcock to be. Maybe Hopkins is nothing like the real-life Hitchcock at all, but I donâ€™t care. This is the portrayal of Hitchcock I want to watch, and although it doesnâ€™t have the cruelty of â€˜The Girlâ€™. Hopkins doesnâ€™t entirely play Hitch without adding a few rough edges. And yet, as Iâ€™ve mentioned already, itâ€™s Alma Hitchcock who shines brightest. Â Helen Mirren is wonderful as Hitchcockâ€™s battle-worn, but never battle-weary, muse, confidante, champion, and saviour. And itâ€™s great to see how firmly Sacha Gervasi (and screenwriter John J McLaughlin) underline her importance to Hitchcockâ€™s success and, during the period of â€˜Psychoâ€™, her brilliant but generally overlooked creative smarts â€“ when Hitchcock fears the film theyâ€™ve risked so much to make will emerge stillborn, Almaâ€™s magical midwifery delivers a bouncing baby horror classic to the world.Â Â Theirs is a marriage I can believe in, and want to believe in. Maybe itâ€™s a little too smooth and â€˜Hollywoodâ€™, but there are still some bumps along the way. They banter, they argue, there are frustrations and paranoia (the paranoia is on Hitchâ€™s part, although itâ€™s not entirely unjustified), but thereâ€™s always love â€“ even if itâ€™s generally unspoken – and a respect and a caring and a deeply sincere appreciation of each other. Itâ€™s also good to see Alma portrayed in such an unexpected way. Iâ€™m probably being completely unfair here, but Iâ€™ve never thought of Alma Reville as a particularly â€™feminineâ€™ woman â€“ in photographs sheâ€™s always reminded me of a patient, bespectacled tomboy who was physically no match for the platinum bombshells her husband fixated upon â€“ but Helen Mirren plays Alma like a firebrand, confident and sexual (particularly in the red swimsuit she wears midway through the movie), playful but lioness-like, and in every respect â€“ her famous husbandâ€™s creative equal. Alma is undoubtedly the only one who can keep Hitch contained. She has a disarming juxtaposition of steel and warmth and thereâ€™s a tremendous firecracker moment in the final Act of the film when we can see the truth of this woman in Mirrenâ€™s eyes. She doesnâ€™t portray Alma, she channels her. Itâ€™s a fascinating performance. None of the cast disappoints. They all give fine performances with the small but beautifully observed character tics necessary to convince us these arenâ€™t just caricatures but real flesh-and-blood Hollywood legends brought back to life. Scarlett Johansson is fabulous and beautiful as Janet Leigh, James Dâ€™ Arcy is an unnervingly accurate Anthony Perkins (particularly when he appears on set wearing the Norman Bates turtleneck) and Jessica Biel, with the briefest screen time of all, is a convincing Vera Miles whose perceived â€˜betrayalâ€™ of Hitchcock on an earlier movie continues to incur his wrath. And there are true moments of brilliance from the director and his DP, Jeff Cronenweth. Much of the sun-soaked photography is beautiful to behold, particularly during a neat, possibly unconscious nod towards a luscious scene in â€˜Vertigoâ€™ when Alma goes to the beach with her writer-friend (and possibly Hitchcockâ€™s love rival?) Whitfield Cook, and Cronenwethâ€™s colour palette is sublime. Watch out, also, for the filming of the famous â€˜Psychoâ€™ shower scene. Itâ€™s a quite wonderful restaging, operating on multiple layers as a reconstruction of a moment in film history (although whereâ€™s Saul Bass? But thatâ€™s only a small gripe), an affectionately accurate homage, a revelation of Hitchcockâ€™s inner darkness, and a brief shock of stabbing violence that has such perfect rhythms it almost matches the unexpected impact of the original. And then thereâ€™s a subtly composed scene between Hopkins and Biel when Hitch speaks with Vera Miles in her dressing room and, shot through the mirror, we watch a dark-haired Miles confronting Hitch while her blonde â€˜Psychoâ€™ wig sits on the table, seemingly if impossibly between them, playing its own part in the psychology of the moment.Â Â Thereâ€™s only one small storytelling detail I didnâ€™t quite believe, and that â€˜Hitchcockâ€™ could easily have done without, and thatâ€™s the occasional â€˜slippagesâ€™ Hitch has when he daydreams interactions with Â Ed Gein. Those scenes donâ€™t damage the movie but theyâ€™re unnecessary and could easily have been left on the cutting room floor. Donâ€™t let the less-enthusiastic reviews put you off. â€˜Hitchcockâ€™ is a wonderfulÂ film, a joyous evocation and a hugely touching love letter to the woman who was undoubtedly the power behind the Alfred Hitchcock throne. And so what if itâ€™s not the harsher warts-and-all biopic some other critics wanted? As Alma tells Hitch midway through the film, “It’s only a bloody movie.â€. Â P.S. I was watching â€˜The Birdsâ€™ as I wrote this review and had forgotten how incredibly subtle and chilling that marvellous scene is when Tippi Hedren takes a smoke-break in the school playground, unaware until almost the last moment that the birds are gathering silently all around her, preparing to strike. Even with the ancient greenscreen and some of the hokey bird-attack effects, that movie still makes me glad we donâ€™t own a budgie. And, as killer birds go, itâ€™s far more nightmarish than the frankly stupid raven attack in the first Act of â€˜Damien: Omen IIâ€™, when the journalist has her eyes pecked out and is inexplicably hurled up into the air when an articulated lorry hits her. Please explain the physics of that one. Iâ€™ve never worked it out.