D: Sacha Gervasi. W: John J. McLaughlin. DP: Jeff Cronenweth. Starring: Anthony Hopkins/Helen Mirren/Scarlett Johansson/Danny Huston/Toni Collette/Michael Stulbarg/Jessica Biel/Michael Wincott/James D’Arcy/Kurtwood Smith. (NOTE: Based on Stephen Rebello’s book “Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho.”)
Hitchcock. One name, one man. Alfred Hitchcock is a cinematic pyramid. Built tirelessly for years and visualizing extensively manicured ideas, the Hitchcock canon is as marvelous as it is enjoyable. It is safe to say that anyone worth their popcorn has a favorite. But can a dual biopic and ‘making of’ film be as memorable? Sadly not.
Earlier this month, HBO premiered a television movie, The Girl, that dealt with Hitchcock’s discovery and destruction of actress Tippi Hedren’s career. The star of Hitchcock’s The Birds and Marnie, Hedren admirably and notoriously rejected Hitchcock’s sexual advantages and paid the price with her career. HBO’s attempt was gallant, but its execution pretty poor. The Girl lacked complexity or balance. The story is essentially one of transgression and shame, yet audiences don’t get to know either character. I mention this project as it somewhat works in tandem to Hitchcock as it picks up where this film ends and portrays an entirely more menacing side of the cinematic master.
That being said, Hitchcock is an improvement, but not a knock-out. Anthony Hopkins fills Hitchcock’s weighty shoes and trousers with a tremendous sense of play. He never allows his performance to become a caricature and is aided by the narrative. Screenwriter John McLaughlin seems to have a penchant for characters with weird dreams. Having written one of the incarnations of 2010’s Black Swan, it is clear he took some cues from that for his Hitchcock story. But rather than spiral into obsession like Natalie Portman’s ballerina, Hopkins’ Hitchcock observes and casually converses with his imaginary Ed Gein. As the basis for his Psycho film (and also the book), Ed Gein clearly represents Hitchcock’s creative obsession, although painfully literal at times.
Hopkins has skillful Helen Mirren in his corner as Hitchcock’s devoted wife and creative support, Alma. Ultimately, the film merely uses the behind the scenes tropes as a platform for a relationship story. This works to the films advantage as it allows Mirren and Hopkins to be center-stage, with the reincarnations of Psycho filming kept in the background. Much like last year’s My Week With Marilyn, Hitchcock thankfully centers on a certain period in someone’s life rather than a grand scope. This forces the supporting actors, Scarlett Johansson as Janet Leigh, James D’Arcy as Anthony Perkins, and Jessica Biel as Eva Miles to have a bit more presence and importance. Frankly though, all the supporting roles are pretty thankless.
With music by Danny Elfman and gorgeous location shooting, Hitchcock is one of those films you want to love, but can’t. It is at times way too delighted with its own cleverness, while at others only skimming the surface of true and fascinating neurosis. As always when dealing with recreating someone’s own life there are pitfalls. Regrettably, Hitchcock deftly steers around them so carefully that it becomes predictable. Sure to become an Academy contender, I at least hope the film reminds people to watch Hitchcock’s films and to take their own pledge to never, ever remake any of his work.