Director: Sacha Gervasi
Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Michael Stuhlbarg, Danny Huston, Scarlett Johansson, Jessica Biel, James D’Arcy
We take Hitchcock’s masterpiece Psycho as an important part of film history. Many regard it as his best movie. Many people probably do not know the trouble that the master of suspense had while making the movie, let alone even getting Paramount interested in distributing it. After the release of North By Northwest, Alfred Hitchcock (Hopkins) was looking for his next big movie. Numerous industry insiders questioned if he could deliver another successful movie. Was he getting too old to keep making hit movies? Hitchcock started to feel some inspiration after reading a book called “Psycho” by Robert Bloch. The book was loosely based on the real life killings in Wisconsin by Ed Gein. Hitchcock wanted to bring back a good old fashioned horror picture. He was under contract with Paramount at the time, but they were less than impressed with the thought of Psycho being his next picture. Hitchcock was bound and determined to make the movie no matter what the costs were.
His wife, Alma (Mirren), was a vital part of his productions. She would often write revisions to the script and knew how to edit a movie to keep up the suspense. She was often Alfred’s closest collaborator and voice of opinion for any movie he was making. Alma tried getting him to read a screenplay by her friend Whitfield Cook (Huston), but he was set in stone about the adaptation of “Psycho”. Alma conceded and got on board with the production. They decided to fund the movie themselves putting much of their life in jeopardy just to get the movie made. It was Alma’s idea to have the character of Marion Crane killed off within the first thirty minutes.
Hitchcock casts Janet Leigh (Johansson), Anthony Perkins (D’Arcy), and Vera Miles (Biel) as the stars of Psycho. Leigh is the latest addition to the line-up of women known as the “Hitchcock Blonde”. Despite her constant professionalism on set, there is an underlining feeling that exists between her and Hitchcock. Alma cannot seem to shake her inner struggle with this and spends her time writing on the beach with Whitfield Cook. Her absence around their house and set does not go unnoticed by Hitch who begins to think she is having an affair.
There are two different stories being told in this behind-the-scenes look at the life of one of the greatest screen directors. The primary story centers around the marriage of Alfred Hitchcock and his devoted wife Alma Reville. The other focus of the movie is on the constant challenges he faced while making Psycho. The movie is based on the book “Alfred Hitchcock and The Making of Psycho” by Stephen Rebello. The movie history nut in me wanted more of the story to center around the making of the classic movie. I think it could have gone into far more detail. Instead, Hitchcock is more about his relationship with Alma. Both stories are fascinating and could easily have been made into their own movies. Here they are blended together and not given a very specific look into either one of them. Another jarring part of the movie deals with Ed Gein. The movie suggests that Hitchcock was haunted by the images of Gein and was seeing visions of the serial killer. I do not know if this was true in real life or just a cinematic concept that fell flat. Every scene with Hitchcock talking to Gein seems so out of place with the tone of the rest of the movie.
The strong performances save the movie and give it the depth that is missing from the screenplay. Scarlett Johansson and James D’Arcy bring some nice subtle choices to their real life counterparts that play well for the limited screen time they have been given. For the most part, Anthony Hopkins successfully hides behind the make-up and fat suit to bring out numerous sides of Hitchcock while still showcasing his obvious vocal qualities and posture. In what easily could have been a movie to show off the work of Anthony Hopkins, the best performance belongs to fellow Oscar winner Helen Mirren. I really began to wonder if the movie was about her character instead of Hopkins’ character. There is humor, strength, and heart to her that showcases why she was a perfect match for Alfred but also makes you feel sorry for her. This is the second of two movies based on Alfred Hitchcock that were released this year. Toby Jones played Hitch in HBO’s “The Girl” which followed his relationship with Tippi Hedren while filming The Birds. Which version has the more accurate portrayal of the master of suspense? I think the truth lies somewhere in the middle. Hitchcock is the better of the two movies by far. I just wish the movie would have decided to pick which story it wanted to tell and given more specificity to that story.
RATING: *** 1/2 (3.5 out of 5 stars)