Movie review – Where love and suspense collide

2013-03-31 10:00

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An epic love story – told with humour, suspense and cinema’s most famous shower scene – Hitchcock offers a view inside a great man’s process, writes Gayle Edmunds.

Film: Hitchcock (Nu Metro)

Director: Sacha Gervasi

Featuring: Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Scarlett Johansson, Danny Huston, Jessica Biel and Toni Collette

Rating: 8/10

Cinema’s first gentleman of suspense famously preferred blondes. Grace Kelly, Doris Day, Ingrid Bergman, Marlene Dietrich, Tippi Hedren, Eva Marie Saint and Janet Leigh.

And it is Alfred Hitchcock’s on-set, imaginary “affair” with Leigh that has a place in the telling of his own real life love story with Alma Reville, his wife of 54 years.

In Hitchcock, relatively untested director Sacha Gervasi creates a suspenseful romance based on Stephen Rebello’s book, Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho. It is also very funny in parts. It is intimate but, most intriguing of all, it offers a glimpse into the creative workings of one of film’s most ground-breaking and prolific minds.

Gervasi, who wrote the script for the unusual and touching The Terminal, brings that sense of strangeness to this story. It’s fitting, after all.

A man of such singular talent as Hitchcock hardly deserves a biopic in the linear sense of the word.

After being slighted by the Oscars no fewer than five times – he was nominated for Rebecca, Lifeboat, Spellbound, Rear Window and Psycho – Hitchcock was finally given a lifetime achievement award by the American Film Institute (not the Oscars) and, during his speech, he said: “I beg permission to mention by name only four people who have given me the most affection, appreciation, encouragement, and constant collaboration. The first of the four is a film editor, the second is a scriptwriter, the third is the mother of my daughter Pat and the fourth is as fine a cook as ever performed miracles in a domestic kitchen – and their names are Alma Reville.”

There isn’t a better way to tell Hitchcock’s unlikely love story than through the film making process of his most unlikely success, Psycho.

Anthony Hopkins looks nothing like Hitch, as he was affectionately known, but he climbs so successfully into the skin of the master of suspense (with a little prosthetic and bodysuit help) that he easily gets the audience to suspend their disbelief.

For Helen Mirren as Alma, it’s easier.

Though a constant part of Hitch’s life, she is not a public figure, and her silhouette doesn’t appear on scores of film posters and in upwards of 50 films.

But Mirren, with her usual consummate skill, fleshes out the shadowy Alma to create a whole person, not a wife, not a mother, not a writer, not a collaborator – but all of these things and more.

Toni Collette is Hitch’s long-suffering assistant, Peggy, who helps him find suitable material to make into films.

She is unimpressed when he develops a weird obsession with the killer Ed Gein and says he’s going to turn the book Psycho, telling the killer’s story, into his next film.

Studio bosses are equally unimpressed. They want another North by Northwest, not a cheap and nasty horror flick.

They get neither, and Hitch and Alma mortgage their house to make Psycho. The first cut is horrid, but with a re-edit, with Alma beside him, Hitchcock makes film history.

There are many story threads that run through the film – Hitch’s obsessive relationship with Gein, the killer who drives the story; Hitch’s inappropriate, slightly unsettling relationship with his latest blonde, Leigh (Scarlett Johansson); as well as Alma’s overly close relationship with Whitfield Cook (Danny Huston); and the intimate, sometimes bitter, relationship between Alma and Hitch.

Like a good Hitchcock plot though, they weave a tapestry that builds a picture of a love story that is as unique as it is powerful.

Done with such attention to detail, this film will delight fans of Hitchcock’s work, as elements of all his films are sneaked into the fabric of the film with a wink and a nudge, but at its core, it is a tribute to a great man – and the great woman who made him one, and his appreciation of that fact.

Also, the corpulent director would have deeply appreciated Johansson, and were he alive today, she’d no doubt have pride of place on his icy-blonde list.

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