Alfred Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins), hot off the success of his latest movie North by Northwest, cannot seem to find a new script to focus on as his follow up project. When he reads Robert Bloch’s “Psycho”, based loosely on the life of serial killer Ed Gein, he scoops up the rights and finances the film himself since no studio in Hollywood is willing to back such a violent and sexually deviant story. Along with his wife, Alma (Helen Mirren), they embark on a production that could either keep them in the spotlight or ruin their lives.
While Hitchcock does tell an interesting and somewhat comedic tale about the making of the defining movie of the man’s career, the details about his actress fixation are glossed over and made to look like they really weren’t that big a deal. Oh yeah? Tell that to Tippi Hedron. I dare you!
Anthony Hopkins embodies the role of the master storyteller through some impressive make-up and an uncomfortable looking fat suit. While he does at time go overboard with the facial expressions and mouth movements while speaking (“Good eeevening”), he comes off as the man we all remember hosting Alfred Hitchcock Presents. We also get to see him during some rough times and Hopkins manages to make him sympathetic and relatable as well as somewhat detestable in the way he treats his wife like shit. He’s pretty damned good here.
Helen Mirren is even better. I’ve always found her performances to be entertaining and powerful, even in popcorn fare like Red. She does what she does best here as well even though the script does make her look like an uncaring shrew at times. She knows her husband gets jealous easily and tries to make it look like an affair is forming between herself and writer Whitfield Cook, played by Danny Huston. You can’t blame her character for doing this as her husband gets all cray cray over his ingénues, and even though the script makes her look like an immature brat about it, Mirren comes off as classy as ever. She’s one of those ultra-talented actors who can overcome the deficiencies of the screenplay with a simple gesture. I can’t get enough of her.
The rest of the cast is great as well. I especially liked Scarlett Johannson as Janet Leigh. She makes the character completely professional and likable through all the craziness going on during the production of Psycho. I especially liked her during the shooting of the infamous “shower scene”, because from now on I will have a new insight into what went on behind the camera thanks to her performance. Seeing Michael Wincott once again was a pleasant surprise. He plays an imaginary version of Ed Gein that Hitchcock routinely gets into debates with over the production of the film. I haven’t seen him in a film since Alien: Resurrection. Ralph Macchio made me giggle as screenwriter Joespeh Stefano and James D’Arcy played a great Anthony Perkins.
The only weak link in the chain is Jessica Biel as Vera Miles. I just didn’t like her character or Biel’s aloof portrayal. Her scenes bring the movie down a notch or two because I got the feeling that the only reason she was in this movie was to fulfill a contract obligation. She half asses it, and the script doesn’t help either.
The movie flies by at a fast clip, it’s entertaining and sometimes witty and clever. Seeing the old school methods of movie making duplicated here were just as interesting to me as the story itself. Sacha Gervasi puts a lot of effort into selling the time period, but either due to the script or by his own choice makes light of the creepy aspects of the story. I would have liked to have seen the seedy happenings involving Hitchcock’s obsessive behavior and the fallout it caused. I guess I’ll have to watch The Girl for that.
Hitchcock could have been a great biographical account of a severely flawed genius, but in the end it’s just a disappointingly flawed film. It goes for a cutesy and comical take on the story and steers clear of the darker moments. The performances are wonderful for the most part and it definitely feels like the movie takes place in the 60s, but the script goes for the safe route and in the end it’s just a passable film. I recommend watching it, but once will be enough for most people.
2.5 out of 5