I haven’t seen silence of the Lambs, in fact the only film I’ve seen Anthony Hopkins in is Thor. I’d heard of his legendary acting chops but hadn’t seen him in action. As for Helen Mirren, I’d seen RED, National Treasure, heard samples of her voice work but nothing of substance. I’d like to think that my being unfamiliar with the actors’ past performances gave me the ability to enjoy the film without thinking of them as actors but rather as the characters they portrayed.
Come to think of it, I haven’t actually seen Psycho, which is the backdrop on which this story is played out. We’re introduced to Hitchcock unceremoniously as he is coming down from the high of his latest release North by Northwest. He seems in equal parts a bumbling fool, an intellectual and a mischievous child.
I found myself distracted by the details put into the sets and costumes of the golden era of film. Studios were at the forefront of the economy, raking in the cash and creating jobs but film was still a risky business and studios rarely took chances even back then.
Hitchcock and Vera appear to live a nice cushty life in their mansion but we get a sense of unease in the marriage as Vera appears to be quietly suffering in the background but of what? The film misdirects us constantly when it comes to Vera, showing her as alternating between the stand that hitchcock constantly leans on to keep him going and as an adventurous free spirit who is always only a moment away from packing her bags and leaving for good.
Helen Mirren manages to convince us that Vera was as multi-faceted as her husband, and in a way, she was much more ‘real’ than the larger than life Hitchcock character. Vera was unwavering in her support for her husband but he was always too busy fussing over his leading ladies, fighting the censors, bargaining with studio execs to ever notice how essential Vera was to his accomplishments.
Hitchcock, ever stubborn, takes on the studio system when they refuse to finance psycho, he uses his mansion (re-mortgage or some other term that I don’t understand) to finance the film and he still manages to spend time ogling at buxom blondes. All the while noticing that his wife is drifting but he still chooses to focus on his film.
This is a biophical story after all therefore the audience wouldn’t be faulted for expecting a dull tale but the filmmaker manages to make the private side of the protagonist’s life just as exciting and thrilling as the bombastic scenes set on a film set (pun not intended) or within production/censorship offices. There are a few wink & nod moments but they’re done amusingly enough so as not to induce cringing.
Watching this made me want to go and purchase a Hitchcock boxset to see what all the fuss is about when it comes to his films.
Verdict: Watch it in cinemas if you’re into any aspect of filmmaking (acting/directing/writing/producing), otherwise rent it.