19 December 2012

Review: Hitch and His Ladies (Hitchcock)


Retirement is rapping at Alfred Hitchcock's (Anthony Hopkins) door and he is becoming acutely aware of it. North by Northwest has done smashingly well, yet Hitch is unsatisfied. Critics have him down to a T, he will never make another film as good as Lifeboat or The 39 Steps, they say. Maybe he should just call it quits.

Inspiration soon strikes him in the form of Ed Gein, the notorious killer from Wisconsin, whose exploits have turned into a scandalous new novel. The likes of which Hitch thinks he can make a great horror film with. The problem with that is Hitch is trying to make that film in 1960s America. Moral codes and overly cranky members of ratings board are going to make it nearly impossible for the infamous shower scene to be made. With Paramount also holding that tidy bit of information, it will be difficult for the Mr. Hitchcock to get the picture off the ground.

Still, Hitch has his wife Alma (the always wonderful Helen Mirren) in his corner. That is until he puts their home up as collateral. Alma has never felt like her effort has been measured with due respect, but when Hitch doesn't  even look at a story treatment she thinks might make a good story, she has had enough. Whitfield Cook (Danny Huston) is offering her a story credit on his script and she takes him up on it.

Let's see if the Master of Suspense can succeed without Alma at his side. Their sudden closeness causes Hitch concern.

What strikes this writer as curious is the division Hitchcock has created amongst his fans. Hitch's detours he spends with Ed Gein are not as distracting as the psychological analysis offered by The Girl. Like a Psych 101 student, the other Hitchcock film tries too hard to interpret meaning out of everything.

These vignettes of macabre comedy serve the purpose of illuminating Hitch's paranoid delusions. Hitch starts acting much like the characters in his films, peeping through door-holes, waking up in a panic, picking sand off of the floor whilst contemplating his wife's actions.

Hitchcock is predominantly about the making of his most commercially successful film, but at its heart lies a love story about the woman behind the man. Anthony Hopkin's makeup may not win any Oscars, but Hopkins finds what ails the director. He grounds the man renowned for his skills as lost in this new stage of his career. Similarly, Mirren provides a weighty counterpart to her film-husband. Rounding out the excellent cast are Scarlett Johansson doing her best to portray the original scream queen, Jessica Biel as the slighted Vera Miles, Toni Collette, Michael Stuhlbarg and Danny Huston.

Hitchcock is one of the better acted movies of the year and the offering of a behind-the-scenes look at one of the most seminal pictures of its time only adds to the fun. Don't let the backlash keep you from giving it a look yourself. A man of Hitchcock's stature merits a biopic that is entertaining and this one delivers.

***/****