Adapted from Stephen Rebello's non-fiction book, 'Hitchcock' dramatizes the period in Alfred Hitchcock's life following the premiere of 'North By Northwest'. As a filmmaker, he's at the top of his game, but only as long as he sticks to what he does best -- wrong man on the run espionage thrillers. Everybody, especially his home studio Paramount, wants him to keep cranking those out.
But Hitch, as he likes to be called, wants to do something different. Problem is, when the Master of Suspense tries "different" -- say 'Vertigo' -- "different" translates to box office failure. Amidst this self-doubt and struggle, he discovers the novel, Psycho, written by Robert Bloch. It's horrible, horrible stuff, inspired by real-life mother-obsessed serial killer, Ed Gein (a man so evil he served as the basis for 'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre' as well as 'The Silence of the Lambs'). On the surface, B-picture slasher movie material, but Hitch wonders what would happen if an A-list director set out to do "genre?"
The result, the audience knows, is one of the best and most successful horror movies ever made, one that pushed censorship and structural boundaries and continues to terrify audiences fifty-plus years later.
To finance and produce 'Psycho', Hitch mortgages his home, battles studio executives, obsesses over his "Hitchcock blonde" leading ladies, and struggles through a series of nightmares where Ed Gein haunts and tempts him. If Hitch fails, he'll lose everything -- his status, home, savings and, worst of all, his loving wife and creative partner, Alma Reville (Helen Mirren).
It'll be interesting to read the discussions in the forums following this review. On one hand, 'Hitchcock' is gorgeous, funny, creepy, features terrific performances by an all start cast, and manages to -- in a heightened manner -- accurately portray how challenging it is to make Hollywood movies and how even a master craftsman at the top of his game can nearly stumble over self-doubt and inner demons. Yet, on the other hand, while all the pieces are there, I wonder if the film adds too many unnecessary elements and homages, and undercuts the real world stakes and drama.
Anthony Hopkins is instantly charming, channeling his inner and outer Hitch with the voice and mannerisms anyone who has seen 'Alfred Hitchcock Presents' can appreciate. As the behind-the-scenes documentaries attest, this isn't quite an impersonation, but rather a captured essence. Helen Mirren is, per usual, fantastic as a devoted life partner who feels increasingly under-appreciated next to Hitch's blondes. Throw in Danny Huston (perfect for any period movie), Scarlet Johansson, Jessica Biel, and Tony Collette for bit parts, and all I can says is, wow, these people often star in their own movies or television shows, and here they're doing great work in smaller rolls.
Visually, the film looks and sounds great too. Danny Elfman, who previously channeled Bernard Herman for the shot-for-shot 'Psycho' remake, rides a fine line between Herman's work and his own gothic themes. Director Sacha Gervasi and his filmmaking team highlight the actors with an eye for complex compositions, mood, and lighting -- the cinematography feels very Hitchcockian.
Every movie junkie should get a kick out of all the history, homages, and references. As I said before, the movie skewers the Hollywood system, making fun of money-men and censors, but I loved all the nods to Hitchcock's other films (there's definitely a drinking game in here for someone clever). The dialog is always witty and deliciously dark in unexpected ways. Finally, getting to know -- even in a dramatized form -- one of cinema's greats, to see his foibles and fears, is a joy.
There's a lot of impressive work on display here. Yet, for whatever reason, I just didn't love 'Hitchcock' as much as I wanted to.
I think it comes down to a two main bumping points. First, the filmmakers intended to dramatize Hitchcock's emotional fragility by inserting conversations and nightmares with Ed Gein. These sequences play big and the music wants us to be afraid, all while implying Hitch is on the verge of madness and, at any moment, the man could become as violent as the movies he makes. However, these fantasies pulled me away from character and the real world challenges. I'm pretty sure Alfred Hitchcock didn't murder anyone while making 'Psycho', so these beats not only played as forced and false threats, but they also distract from the movie's core drama of Alma and Hitch's troubled relationship.
Second, because the aforementioned homages and references were so spot on, even as the stakes seemed too low, I found myself not wanting to watch 'Hitchcock' as much as I wanted to watch the Master's actual films, especially when there's a boxed set sitting on my shelf -- with 'Vertigo', 'North by Northwest', 'The Birds', 'Psycho', and more -- ready to go.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Hitchcock' debuts on Blu-ray courtesy of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment in a two-disc Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy edition. The Digital Copy includes both a downloadable version (for iTunes) as well as an Ultraviolet streaming option. Pre-menu trailers include 'Stoker', The Blu-ray Experience, 'The Sessions', and 'The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel'.
20th Century Home Entertainment presents 'Hitchcock' on Blu-ray with a gorgeous AVC MPEG-4 encode, framed in the film's original 2.39:1 aspect ratio.
No one will be getting murdered over this video presentation, that's for sure. The highlights include sumptuous colors, endless detail and texture, deep dark shadows and black levels, and wonderfully cinematic compositions. While exterior scenes have the most color pop, I think my favorite shots were inside the studio sound stages, where bold lighting cut through dark spaces. As one expects from brand new movies, there isn't a trace of dust, dirt, or damage. The encode seems strong as well, with no signs of compression errors save for the slightest bit of banding most won't notice.
In many ways, I wish Alfred Hitchcock's classics could be restored to look this good. The filmmakers (and Blu-ray production team) really nailed the look and feel of the era and Mr. Hitchcock's style
Presented with a lossless 5.1 DTS-HD MA soundtrack, 'Hitchcock' fares much better than one would expect for a period bio-pic. To be fair, this isn't necessarily demo material, given the dialog-heavy nature of things. But there are also times when the mix wonderfully reproduces Danny Elfman's score, showing off the music's wide dynamic range. These moments are generally in the "thriller" moments and LFE levels are well supported. Sound effects are rendered nicely as well, panning as needed with the occasional aggressive moment popping up now and again. I love it when "dramas" push sound mixing conventions above what's generally acceptable. A very fine mix.
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment includes a nice collection of bonus material. Since they all appear to be exclusive to the Blu-ray edition of the film, you'll see a full list in the next section.
While there is a ton of impressive work on display in 'Hitchcock', I found myself falling out of love with it over the course of the film's running time. My personal reactions aside, the movie looks and sounds terrific on Blu-ray. The special features are also detailed, though somewhat padded. If you love Alfred Hitchcock movies, or any of the actors involved with this production, 'Hitchcock' is definitely worth a look. For fans, this disc is an easy recommend.