In light of the impending Oscar season, Rooster Illusion is tackling some of the movies that are likely to show up in various categories. Second Breakfast covered Les Mis, the head honcho did Django, and others have been covered sporadically. So in light of these hefty films, here’s a review of a lighter piece, a bio-drama about the famous figure widely known as the “Master of Suspense.” Surprisingly, it wasn’t nominated for a single thing, but hell, here we go!
Plot: After the successful release of North by Northwest, director Alfred Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins) decides he wants to make something that will shake up audiences and critical perception of his movies. He comes across the book Psycho and meets a lot of difficulties in trying to adapt it. With the aide of his wife Alma (Helen Mirren), he gets the project going and we see both the project and their relationship develop.
I admittedly assumed that this movie was only popular because it’s about Alfred Hitchcock and features some big-name stars. While being a fan of Hitchcock helps enjoy this movie, though, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that it has some merits of its own.
Perhaps most surprising is Alma, Hitch’s wife, who had a way bigger effect on his career than I knew. She’s not just an encouraging wife but an absolutely essential part of his filmmaking process. It follows that she’s a major part of the movie, and I might even argue that she’s the main character. Hitchcock is what we expect: witty, clever, ominous, intense, sometimes troubled. But Alma gives the movie its emotional weight as she has to tolerate her husband’s eccentricities, push the project forward, and live with the fact that she’s known as “Hitchcock’s wife.”
The movie would’ve fallen apart if Helen Mirren didn’t give such a knockout performance. She jumps between doubt and confidence quickly, but we always see her emotions buried in her eyes as she steels herself to accomplish what she knows is right, or smiles to please the people her husband won’t bother humoring. Anthony Hopkins also hits all the right notes as Hitchcock, but while he has some surprisingly emotional scenes, he’s what we expect. The performance is amazing but it’s…well, it’s someone playing Alfred Hitchcock. That’s all it was ever going to be.
Another pleasant surprise was the direction, which makes the story play out as Hitchcock-lite. There are moments where the director plays on minor suspenseful moments and he does so effectively. Moreover, a lot of scenes go past the bounds of a typical biodrama, and the intro is especially Hitchcockian. These were all nice touches that shooed away my cynicism that this was going to be a plain, generic fluff piece that plays on our mutual love of something from the cinema of old.
Still, as much as Hitchcock was surprisingly enjoyable, it had similar issues to Argo. While both are good movies that engage the audience almost all the way through, they’re also pretty forgettable. I would recommend Hitchcock to just about anyone, even people that don’t recognize the name, because it’s good and fun. But will I be thinking about it years down the road? I doubt I’ll be thinking about it in six months.
This is partially due to the nature of biodramas, but also because Hitchcock doesn’t really want to tackle anything hefty. The stakes in this movie are pretty low. Even the advertising doesn’t hide that Psycho ultimately gets made, so all of the issues in getting the movie made can be described as mild inconveniences. The profound story is the relationship between Hitch and Alma, and while there are some great moments, they’re ultimately pretty minor. Even the biggest conflicts don’t leave us worried.
Hitchcock is like a light Hitchcock movie, but it also lacks the magic that makes those movies so interesting. “The Master of Suspense” could make you care about the littlest things. Hitchcock held my interest, but by nature of being based on a true story and also lacking a real bite, I didn’t truly care about the plot.
Hitchcock is good, and that’s a lot more than I expected. In many ways it’s great, and it does exactly what it’s trying to do and more. It’s worth seeing, especially for Hitchcock fans, but don’t expect a complex and challenging character study.