The problem with Hitchcock, an ironically harmless retelling of the making of the 1960 horror classic, Psycho, is both the largeness (girth aside) of its protagonist, and the prodigious talents of the actor who portrays him. Though a hugely successful chapter in the career of the “master of suspense,” the film’s focus is way too limited to adequately accommodate a legend of Alfred Hitchcock’s magnitude, and — apart from one or two noteworthy moments which rise above caricature — a performer of Anthony Hopkins‘ caliber.
Helen Mirren (who’s already garnered both SAG and Golden Globe nominations) plays the no-nonsense spouse who provides indispensable grounding for the corpulent and driven director, in her role as Alma Reville, his partner of eventually 54 years. In truth, Mirren really has only one important scene in the production, so it’s baffling as to why Hopkins is not similarly feeling the love as far as award-season plaudits are concerned. His orchestral-like conducting of the screams from the audience at the Psycho premiere, as he surreptitiously stands outside the doors to the theatre, is inspired.
But a handful of good moments do not a memorable movie make, and in the end, Hitchcock is a missed opportunity for what could have been a fascinating combination of great actor and subject material.
If I was anticipating more from Hitchcock than was delivered, I have to say that Anna Karenina in some ways surpassed expectations. Director Joe Wright’s imaginative interpretation of the epic Tolstoy novel demands suspension of disbelief from the beginning: its theatrical setting serves as a fluid backdrop that continually transforms itself in quite remarkable ways, and though perhaps initially cumbersome, you soon adapt to the creative transitions of the unorthodox mise-en-scène without a second thought.
It’s a lush, captivating experience, which may have proven even more so had it not been for an essential lack of chemistry between the principals at the heart of the time-honored drama. Keira Knightley‘s beauty serves her well in the role of the tragic heroine, and I was looking forward to seeing who would be paired with her as the fateful paramour, Count Vronsky. Alas, Aaron Taylor-Johnson sorely disappoints (yes, I like my Vronskys tall, dark, and handsome — not inauthentically blond and pouffy) — and though shallowness is not necessarily a bad thing for this part, Taylor-Johnson has nowhere near the kind of magnetism that can make you believe that the title character, living a highly comfortable and respectable life in 19th-Century czarist Russia society, would leave her husband and young son, bear a child out of wedlock, and endure the ostracization that ultimately ends in her suicide, all for the sake of being at his side. (Fortunately, the real depth in the acting department is provided by a nearly unrecognizable Jude Law, as the long-suffering husband, Karenin. It’s a performance that’s stoic, understated, and quite moving.)
Despite the key miscasting, the film is grandly transporting, and unexpectedly lingers in the mind. It’s gorgeous to watch and a standout addition to the crowded list of Karenina remakes.