AFI Fest picked a fun and droll piece of work for its 2012 opener in Sacha Gervasi’s “Hitchcock” last night. (Greg Ellwood’s review here.) As you’ll hear me mention in this evening’s podcast (coming later due to technical difficulties), I found it to be strikingly emotional, though, for its depiction of an artist’s plight and the joy that comes with the release of bottled creativity. And I can’t help but wonder if Academy members may feel the same way.
Films about the process have a long history of awards recognition, whether satirical or sincere. Things like Robert Altman’s “The Player” and Spike Jonze’s “Adaptation” come to mind, or “The Bad and the Beautiful” and “A Star is Born.” And there is, of course, the highest echelon of the subgenre: “8 1/2.” Oscar nominees all. Though sometimes masterworks in this vein can slip through the cracks. Just ask “Sullivan’s Travels.” And though it landed a pair of nods, “Singin’ in the Rain” was mostly passed over.
“Hitchcock” is no masterwork by any means but it gets at that yearning that resides inside of every artist and it struck the right chord for me. Add a meaningful and deeply considered love story — and one about the artistic collaborative process, at that — Gervasi’s film could resonate with his peers in the industry and pick up a number of nominations.
At the top of the list of possibilities is Helen Mirren as Alma Reville, Alfred Hitchcock’s wife of many years and collaborative partner throughout. Mirren, as brilliant as ever, lends a softness to Reville’s steel will that lands perfectly. The film is notable for finally affording the woman her due in a major way. Behind every great man there’s a woman, and never more so than in the case of Alfred Hitchcock.
As the corpulent legend himself, Anthony Hopkins is sublime. He’s afforded a much better opportunity than Toby Jones was in HBO’s “The Girl” because here Hitchcock is depicted with the proper depth to explore his obsessions and urges. Their primal nature marries splendidly with notions of what drove the man to make “Psycho” in the first place, the desire to be creative again, to tap into that most simplistic but vital of needs: freedom.
The two of them are sure to be in the conversation for Best Actress and Best Actor and could certainly land the nominations. Beyond that it’s not as easy to handicap but, well, let’s see…
Best Picture? Maybe. As mentioned, the film could easily resonate with the sort of creative types that populate the Academy and will be a favorite for many, I’m betting — unless, of course, they prefer Hitchcock to stay on a pedestal and view the film as the dismantling of a cinema treasure.
The screenplay — adapted from the book “Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of ‘Psycho'” — could be fun enough to corral writerly sentiment, but I’m doubtful.
The makeup on Hopkins gets the job done but left me, at least, aware of the presence of it. Hopkins is a difficult persona to drown out in superficial enhancements, so maybe the work isn’t to blame. But the branch could be delighted by the transformation, nevertheless.
Scarlett Johansson will not be nominated for Best Supporting Actress as Hitch’s leading lady Janet Leigh, but I feel a need to mention her. I kept seeing Leigh in her face, something about the spark of the eyes, the arch of the eyebrows. I just watched “Psycho” again earlier in the week so it was fresh in my mind. But I liked the way the character was carved out here, the professional, able to take Hitchcock’s quirks and steadfast amid them. It’s a certain trick to pull of fragile-but-strong. That’s what Leigh was, and Johansson conveys it well.
And oh how I wish they had found more for James D’Arcy to do as Anthony Perkins because he was nailing it. Alas, he’s in and out.
So it’s left to be seen how the film lands overall. Will the critics savage it for failing to revere the man (the same critics who have done up “Vertigo” to be the GREATEST MOVIE OF ALL TIME just like Scottie Ferguson doing up Judy Barton to reflect what he wants her to be)? Will it find an audience and be a notable box office player? And will the industry take to its depiction of the process. We’ll see. But I dug it.
“Hitchcock” opens in limited release on November 23.