Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Hardly Without a "Hitch"!

     Hitchcock, the biographical film detailing how the famous "master of suspense" got Psycho (undoubtedly one of the best horror films of all time) made against the better judgement of everyone he knew, was a late entry into this year's awards cycle. It immediately sparked all sorts of speculation as to what sort of awards glory the producers, publicists and/or studio execs thought that it might be headed.  An ambitious campaign was launched for the film, stimulating buzz for everything: Picture and Director, the acting categories, Costume Design, you name it.  In the end, Helen Mirren received Best Actress nominations from the Globes, SAG, and BAFTA (the British Academy).  BAFTA also nominated the film for Best Make-Up, which was the only category that it received an Oscar nod for.  It was this lone Oscar nod that sent me running to the last theater showing the movie in Atlanta, knowing that I would never get a review published until it was long gone from the theaters...sigh.
     In truth, I'm not sure why Hitchcock was rushed into this year's awards season.  Surely it wasn't to secure one Make-Up nomination, but the picture overall was entirely mediocre. Director Sacha Gervasi had won some measure of acclaim for directing Anvil, but a documentary (even with some humorous overtones) is an entirely different beast than a piece of narrative storytelling such as this.  Likewise, screen writer John J McLaughlin was one of the three credited scripters attached to Black Swan, but had produced no solo works that won comparable acclaim.  They tried very hard to create a film that captured something of both the sinister and the wryly humorous aspects of the man (Hitchcock, that is) and his work, but somehow came off producing a cutesy imitation of both aspects.
     Of course, if you want to draw subtle strokes, a Danny Elfman score is not the best place to start.  Mr. Elfman is imminently talented at scoring fairy tales and super hero fare, but his musical movements are a little heavy handed for the tone that this piece required.  Production Designer Judy Becker has proven adept in contemporary settings (Silver Linings Playbook, The Fighter) and truly desolate period work (Brokeback Mountain), but the bright colors of the sixties came off as an art deco interpretation of art deco much of the time.  Jeff Cronenworth does the best he can on cintematography and manages to pull off some interesting shots, probably earning "best in show" as far as the crafts are concerned.  As for the Oscar nominated Make-Up, I can only say that sometimes less is more, as their "grand accomplishment" looked far more like Anthony Hopkins made up as Alfred Hitchcock than like Alfred Hitchcock.
     I feel bad for Anthony Hopkins, as his facial prosthetics and fat suit left him crippled as an actor.  He had to struggle to register much emotion on his face, and his physicality was severely limited as well, leaving him to act mostly with his eyes and voice.  He tries his best to overcome these limitations visually, but overcompensation for an immobile facial structure often results in wild and unrestrained eye movements that are difficult to believe.  As for the voice work, while he had Hitchcock's odd vowel sounds down pat, some of the cadence and choice of which words to emphasize rang false for me, not quite capturing "Hitch"'s trademark vocal inflections.  His chemistry with Mirren was perhaps the strongest part of Hopkin's performance, but to really pull off the playing such a larger-than-life, familiar figure, an actor really has to embody said personality the way that Streep did as Thatcher or Childe.  Hopkins is a talented actor, but while he doesn't give a BAD performance, he still falls short of that mark.
      Perhaps the BEST reason for rushing this picture into the 2012-2013 awards race was Helen Mirren.  At the time that the film's release was announced the Best Actress race was looking a little thin, and even with late entry Jessica Chastain muscling her way in for Zero Dark Thirty, I have to believe that Mirren was one of two actresses (the other being Marion Cotillard for Rust and Bone) that just barely missed Oscar nods.  She is easily the best part of the film.  Most of the best laughs result from her taking lines that were not particularly witty on their own and spinning them into some really clever comedy.  She brings out the best in co-star Hopkins in this regard as well.  To be completely fair to Mr. Hopkins, she does have an easier task, since the general public is not nearly so familiar with Alma as they are with her more famous husband Alfred.
     The rest of the cast do respectable, if not entirely outstanding jobs.  Scarlett Johanssen definitely comes across as far more than a pretty face as Janet Leigh. This makes me happy because the actress is often cast in roles where said face is the only requirement, despite the fact that she obviously has other talents.  The stand-out for me, however, was James D'Arcy.  As Anthony Perkins, he seemed to be the creepiest thing in a film about one of the creepiest directors who ever lived.  Taken with his (multiple) roles in Cloud Atlas, I would say that the actor is having a fine year indeed.
     Hitchcock had some entertaining moments, but failed to be much more than a film about a director getting a film made despite obstacles.  It tried to be also be a comedy, but outside of a few inspired line readings from Mirren and Hopkins, it wasn't very funny.  It also tried to say something about a man facing senior citizen status who wants to prove he's still everything he used to be.  Had Hopkin's face not been bound by so much make-up, maybe this thematic intent could have come across in a more inspirational or affecting manner, but it didn't.  In the end, the film was simply more flash than substance, disappointing in a biopic about a film-maker whose work was always so substantive....2 1/2 of 5 stars.

  Related Articles:  Rent and Honed (Rust and Bone review), Cloudy Connections (Cloud Atlas review)

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