BY MICHAEL SMITH World Scene Writer
Friday, December 14, 2012
12/14/12 at 4:55 AM
Very few movie directors have become as famous as Alfred Hitchcock in the public persona, and just as few have remained as enigmatic.
For a man who innately understood audience's emotions and how to toy with them, the artist apparently was a cold fish himself, as his wife might even have concurred.
For a man who today is credited as one of the greatest filmmakers the world has known, the new movie "Hitchcock" is something of a cockeyed love story and an attempt to set the record straight: He probably wouldn't have found the success he did without his most valued sounding board as well as silent writer/editor that was his wife, Alma Reville, the woman behind the genius.
The film is also an opportunity for Anthony Hopkins to ham it up as the portly British director, with the Oscar-winner bellowing as a domineering, challenging, verbal cut-down artist.
Hopkins chews up scenery as if he were Hitchcock sinking his teeth into some lamb chops.
Part of this is the result of director Sacha Gervasi (of the acclaimed metal-band documentary "Anvil: The Story of Anvil") and his decision to employ magical realism in the film much as Hitchcock himself did in his own art.
For example, the film opens with Hopkins introducing the story of serial-killer Ed Gein (the inspiration for "Psycho"). We see the director standing in the middle of Gein's farm, watching a grisly murder close-up, and then the filmmaker breaks the fourth wall by talking directly to the audience as he did on TV for years with his "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" anthology series.
The year is 1959, and Hitchcock is at the height of his success when he decides to leave the mystery genre to take on a horror film. It's too big a risk, studio heads tell him. Only one studio is willing to release the ghastly story - if Hitchcock will make the movie with his own money.
It's an intriguing tale of artistic integrity that resonates today. Studios just wanted Hitchcock to make another money-maker like "North by Northwest" - just like the money-counters would prefer Steven Spielberg to churn out Indiana Jones sequels and Martin Scorsese make nothing but gangster movies.
Gervasi creates a believable world of Hollywood in gleefully taking in the mystique of the studio system and a more innocent era, full of postwar malaise that in just a couple more years will give way to civil rights battles, war protests and the sexual revolution.
The mood is calm, the sweaters are tight (especially on "Psycho" leading lady Janet Leigh, as played by Scarlett Johansson), and the studio soundstage is a small world in which Hitchcock is a dictator who makes his movie magic. The making-of-"Psycho" parts of "Hitchcock" are tremendous fun.
But the picture doesn't take its material seriously enough. Hopkins is allowed to play Hitchcock in constant dry-humor mode, whether at home or on the set. It's as if Hopkins has decided the whole enterprise is nothing more than a lark.
The trouble is, camping it up looks silly if the other cast members aren't in on the joke.
He looks nothing like the filmmaker, but those who recall his "Nixon" performance know that though he didn't look like the president, he completely captured the man's mood and mannerisms; here, Hopkins creates nothing more than a caricature, which turns out to be a worse idea than mimicry would have been.
Mirren fares far better as dedicated and sharp-witted Alma, nit-picking her husband's bad habits (eating, drinking, leering at busty blondes) as much as she does the "Psycho" screenplay. ("Why wait till halfway through?" she asks him of knocking off the leading lady. "Kill her 30 minutes in.")
But even Mirren is ultimately undone by a needless subplot involving Danny Huston as a fellow screenwriter looking to collaborate with Alma on a script - and maybe some hanky-panky. This section is handled so clumsily that it's never believable, and we're left waiting until we can back on the set of "Psycho" to watch the shower scene.
It's a section of the script that Alma likely would have hacked out with a butcher knife to the strains of Bernard Herrmann's piercing score.
Cast: Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren,
Scarlett Johansson, Danny Huston
Theaters: Cinemark Tulsa, Promenade
Running time: 1 hour, 38 minutes
Rated: PG-13 (some violent images,
sexual content and thematic material)
Quality: (on a scale of zero to four
Original Print Headline: Hopkins little more than campy caricature
Michael Smith 918-581-8479
"Hitchcock" gives Anthony Hopkins a chance to ham it up as legendary director Alfred Hitchcock. SUZANNE TENNER/Fox Searchlight