Director: Sacha Gervasi
Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Scarlett Johansson
Release Date: 8th February
Biopics face some rather unique challenges. They straddle the line between fact and fiction, often blurring what is real and what isn’t in the name of entertainment. Some aim for meticulous accuracy, while others are simply content with being a good film in their own right.
Hitchcock, as the name suggests, details the life and times of acclaimed director Alfred Hitchcock. It takes a single vertical slice of the great man’s time behind the camera and drills solely into that rather than opting for a broader approach. The period in question is likely the most significant portion of Hitchcock’s career; the run up to the 1960 release of the iconic horror film, Psycho.
Anthony Hopkins is appropriately cast in the title role, embracing it with a great deal of vigour and a domineering screen presence. Helen Mirren co-stars as Alma Reville, the strong woman behind him. Like Hopkins, she gives a passionate performance, although the defining eccentricity with which Hitchcock is portrayed makes her character (and the entire rest of the cast) rather mundane and unmemorable almost by default. Scarlett Johansson and Jessica Biel do well too as Hitchcock’s leading women but truly Hopkins steals the acting limelight. Michael Stuhlbarg (of Boardwalk Empire fame) is a pleasant surprise as studio executive Lew Wasserman; nice to see Hollywood pay him some much deserved attention.
Despite the film presenting a whimsical front, there is a dark sense of struggle throughout; not only in the difficult development of Psycho but also in its director, as he attempts to adopt the thinking of a murderer and confront the dark corners of his own mind and personality. Disappointingly, the film never really delves too deep into the psyche of Hitchcock, exploring it only on a more superficial level.
Dialogue pops and crackles, as if it had been infused with a few sprinkles of Sorkin magic. And while skilfully shot, the cinematography never impresses as much as it could have, the style of the era rather wasted. Certainly the film is paced nicely, and clocking in at just an hour and half in length, it doesn’t outstay its welcome. As Hitchcock himself said, “what is drama but life with the dull bits cut out”.
Ultimately, films are entertainment; whether that entertainment is in artistic merit, in the ability to touch and move an audience, or in simply presenting a spectacle. Hitchcock succeeds, to some extent, in each of these fields. Its historical accuracy doesn’t really matter because as a film, it is assuredly entertaining.
In a Nutshell: While it doesn’t reach the heights it probably should, Hitchcock is still an absorbing and well executed motion picture.