Thursday, May 2, 2013

Hitchcock (Sacha Gervasi)

Here's lookin' at you.

Alright, before anything else, I just want to express my utter disappointment on this film for not even hinting at Hitch's Ovophobia (fear of eggs). There I said it. Moving on…

Biography films are not given enough credit for being trickier to execute than how it looks. For them to be successful, they must highlight the life of the man/woman they're focusing on with sheer definitiveness and completeness that people would not look for any further films. This has been the very problem that has plagued seemingly incomplete biopics such as "Ali", the Will Smith-starrer which has chronicled the boxer's life only until his fight in Zaire with George Foreman; hardly the best way to end a story about one of the great icons of modern sports history. And hell, even "Capote", a great Oscar attention-grabber during its time, was deemed not perfect enough that a second-tier film about the exact same subject, entitled "Infamous", was conceived. What I mean is that for a biopic to be effective, one must begin and end it at a certain highlight of the person's life which we can all deem as his greatest (or worst) moment. I think you will all agree with me: "Ali" should have ended somewhere in Manila. Even if your knowledge of boxing history is at the slightest, you know what certain pay-per-view I'm talking about. To this day, I'm still slightly disappointed as to how Michael Mann never saw the emotional potential of ending the said film at that particular segment of Ali's life. 

But on a more positive note, that biopic lesson, which was often ignored by some films of the genre, was finely heeded by "Hitchcock", a highly-polished biography of perhaps the most influential filmmaker in history. 

Yes I know, perhaps everyone's quite infuriated about the fact that the film was entitled "Hitchcock" simply because it is not, in any way, a proper chronicling of the man's life. But before we go all ruckus-minded about the matter, please be reminded that the original title is supposed to be "Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho"; sounds more like a routine special feature from a newly-remastered DVD rather than an actual film, doesn't it? Well, we should at least thank the makers for at least doing that last-minute title change.

For a supposed biopic of arguably the greatest icon of modern cinema, "Hitchcock" runs for a mere 98 minutes, which is really quite puzzling because Alfred Hitchcock is such a complex and interesting character to explore. Even his well-known 'blonde' obsession, which is a fine thing to focus upon on its own, was merely hinted at but was not given much attention. But then again, the film, based on what I have seen, merely guns for something that is playfully Hitchcockian in style (the Ed Gein scenes, the "Alfred Hitchcock Presents-esque" opening) but is also very light and, sadly, quite disposable a fare. 

Anthony Hopkins, the only actor that I believe can convincingly pull of Hitch, shines as the titular filmmaker. Although scenes of a superfluously dark-humored Hitchcock overshadow those of a more psychologically tortured one, his interpretation of the 'Master of Suspense' is, for a lack of a better term, masterful. While Helen Mirren, who's as scene-stealing as Hopkins, is effortless as Hitch's wife, Alma Reville. Because of this film, I therefore conclude that without Ms. Reville, Hitchcock could not have pulled off the horror mammoth that is "Psycho" and a whole bunch of his other masterpieces too. This then brings me again to this very tired but truthful adage: "Behind every great man is a woman". In Hitchcock's case, it sure is an icy blonde. Or that's what he has been hoping for all his life, at least.

In terms of execution, "Hitchcock" is, by and large, very conventional and ordinary. Even the insights into Hitchcock's character and the certain happenings on the set of "Psycho" I have already read on the Internet. But what makes this film quite special is its substantial inclusion of Ed Gein, the real-life serial killer who has inspired the source novel by Robert Bloch; a sort of creative liberty that has proved to be a very nice touch. Although I would have preferred it if it was Norman Bates himself (because I want to see more of James D'Arcy as Anthony Perkins/Norman Bates) and not Ed Gein who Hitchcock tries to find and identify himself to in the film's certain, dream-like scenes, it is still a flavorful extra garnish to an otherwise standard biopic. And Scarlett Johansson, despite some eager protests from fans prior to the film's release, nails Janet Leigh convincingly in a way that is sweet, safe and non-controversial.

"Hitchcock", if I am to treat the 'biopic' rules that I have mentioned above as canon, is quite a success and a failure. A success because the film was able to start and begin at perhaps Hitchcock's greatest moment (the creation of "Psycho"); a failure because some of the characters were reduced to mere caricatures. The film nailed the dark humor, the unrelenting obsession and the murderous vibe that comprise a Hitchcock film, but it lacks a more thorough psychological dimension that most biopics often tread. Ultimately, "Hitchcock" lacks the extra courage to dig through Hitch's tailored suit to look right at his heart; we were promised a quite incisive treatment of Hitchcock's persona, and we were left hanging. What we chanced upon is a film that shows us things that we've all heard, seen and read about before, and there seems to have been no effort to pick up from that and go further. Alas, there were no corpses to discover.

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