As a portrait of the legendary director, HITCHCOCK is a vast improvement over HBO’s THE GIRL in that it paints him with many more colors.
This master of suspense is a man consumed with fear; fear of irrelevancy, fear of marring his reputation, and fear of losing the most important relationship in his life with his wife and unsung collaborator Alma Reville. But you also see his deliciously bawdy side, his sense of play, and the drives that made him such a genius filmmaker (all characteristics that are completely absent from the HBO film).
Unfortunately, like that lackluster cable film, HITCHCOCK is surprisingly inert in its approach, perhaps because the concept has been chipped away and watered down so much in the many years it’s been in development. The theme they eventually settled on is intriguing: Hitchcock – the man who prides himself on exercising ultimate control in his work – experiences the potential loss of control over everything in his life. But that theme isn’t nearly as deeply felt and vivid as it screams out to be. It also would have been nice if HITCHCOCK has assumed the qualities that most defined the master’s own films; as they are, neither of these failed semi-biopics are remotely sensuous or cinematic.
Several of the performances also disappoint, mainly because the two leads are the only roles that are developed in any meaningful way. This is especially true of James D’Arcy’s portrayal of Anthony Perkins, which comes across as incredibly postured, overly eager and false. Out of the peripheral characters, only Scarlett Johansson achieves a measure of success by finding great poise as actress Janet Leigh.
Much as he did with Nixon, Anthony Hopkins smartly approaches the role through suggestion instead of direct impersonation, but the screenplay doesn’t give him the soul-plunging tools that Oliver Stone’s writing did, so the performance can’t register as fully as it should.
On the other hand, Helen Mirren is wonderful as his long-devoted wife Alma. In the film’s narrative, Hitchcock feels threatened that Alma may be having an affair with her side collaborator Whitfield Cook. The most moving aspect of Mirren’s performance shines through as you see that an affair is actually a notion that tempts her, in spite of the undying loyalty she feels towards her husband.