Saturday, November 24, 2012


Breezy, efficient, and good-humored, “Hitchcock” sets about its business and sees to it briskly. Not for this movie the self-important aspirations of a biography such as “Lincoln”; it seeks only to pull back the curtain for an hour and a half and give us a glimpse into the lives of Hitch (Anthony Hopkins) and his wife, collaborator and most trusted adviser, Alma Reville (Helen Mirren), as they self-finance the film adaptation of “Psycho” on which Paramount (where Hitch had made his previous half-dozen pictures) and every other studio in town took a pass.

For one thing, whether he’s playing Hitch or Richard Nixon, Anthony Hopkins always looks like Anthony Hopkins, and he wisely makes no more attempt to impersonate Hitch than the accent and the fatsuit. This movie belongs equally to Alma, who, seeing an empty booze glass beside Hitch’s armchair, says only, “There are calories in that.” Alma used to be Hitch’s boss, and she’s still his best editor bar none, as well as his biggest supporter and his buffer with the press. Mirren gets one big speech in which she lets out a lifetime of pent-up frustrations, and it’s a beaut, and she knocks it out of the park.

This is the kind of movie where Hitch has vague, detumescent fantasies about the buxom blondes on the studio lot, and Alma absconds to the beach house of a writer friend (Danny Huston) who makes her feel younger and more attractive than she has in years, but their love is abiding and they’d never actually leave each other. It captures the look of late-50s Hollywood beautifully – an Oscar nomination for Alexander Wei’s art direction and Robert Gould’s set decoration is in order – and Scarlett Johansson and Jessica Biel are letter-perfect as, respectively, Janet Leigh and Vera Miles.

The L.A. Times’ review pooh-poohed the fantasy sequences in which Ed Gein, the real-life inspiration for the character of Norman Bates, interacts with Hitch. I found these scenes, which incidentally take up maybe ten minutes of time, an interesting exploration of what it means for a character literally to haunt an artist’s dreams. “Hitchcock” is a largely upbeat movie, and (though it has a few big laughs) its humor produces more chuckles than guffaws. Its low-key wit is encapsulated in a coda in which Hitch looks to the camera and hopes for his next inspiration, which proceeds to land right on his shoulder.

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