Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Scarlett Johansson, Jessica Biel and Toni Collette
“Hitchcock” is the second movie about the master of suspense to come out in just the last month or so. The first one was the HBO original movie, “The Girl,” which dealt with Hitchcock’s infatuation with Tippi Hedren. It was a passable film for the commendable performances and a few genuinely disturbing scenes. What “The Girl” failed to do was paint a multilayered portrayal of Alfred Hitchcock. Granted, Hitchcock was an obsessive man who had wild fantasies about his leading ladies. But there was so much more to the guy than his unsettling perverted side. Sacha Gervasi’s “Hitchcock” is the superior film in every department, delivering a fully fleshed out depiction of Alfred Hitchcock while also providing sly moments of Hitchcockian humor and intrigue.
Anthony Hopkins is the spitting image of Alfred Hitchcock, who is fresh off the success of “North By Northwest.” Even at age 60, Hitchcock is still looking for new ways to shock audiences and top his previous work. Hitchcock finds his inspiration in a little novel entitled, “Psycho.” Although nobody at Paramount Pictures believes in the project, Hitchcock is resolute on making “Psycho” at any cost. Literally, Hitchcock had to invest his own money to get the picture made at the risk of losing his house, swimming pool and creditability.
Whether you already know the history of how “Psycho” was made or not, it’s always fascinating to watch this true story play out. A nude woman being stabbed to death in a shower might not seem radical when compared to contemporary torture porn. For 1960 though, “Psycho” was easily among the most controversial movies ever produced. Hitchcock had to fight the censors on numerous notorious aspects of the film, from the partial nudity to the presence of a toilet. Keeping the immortal twist at the end of “Psycho” was an equally straining task for Hitchcock, buying every copy of the original book and insisting that nobody enter the theater once the film started. As Hitchcock throws all of his money and heart into “Psycho,” he is constantly split on whether he’s making a masterpiece or another flop like “Vertigo.” Ironically, the British Film Institute recently voted “Vertigo” as the greatest movie of all time, dethroning “Citizen Kane.”
In addition to Hopkins’ spot-on depiction of Hitchcock, we also get some first-rate work from Scarlett Johansson as Janet Leigh, Jessica Biel as Vera Miles, and Toni Collette as Hitch’s assistant. Perhaps the best performance comes from Helen Mirren as Alma Reville, the long-suffering wife of Hitchcock. While Reville stood by her husband until he died in 1980, their marriage was far from a Hollywood romance. It obviously wasn’t easy for Reville to live with a man who was often fixated with his films and younger blonde women. The nature of their sexual relationship also remains a bit of a mystery, as we see them sleeping in separate beds here. For all their problems though, it’s undeniable that Reville’s opinion meant the world to Hitchcock. Even if he could not always satisfy her on an intimate level, Hitchcock knew that he needed his wife by his side for both emotional and creative support.
The only portions of “Hitchcock” that don’t entirely work are the flashbacks involving Ed Gein, the serial killer that inspired the “Psycho” novel. The film tries to make a connection between Gein and Hitchcock’s own inner demons. While the idea is intriguing, the pieces never quite come together in a satisfying fashion. Fortunately, these moments take up little of the movie and do not distract from the other stimulating scenes concerning Hitchcock’s marriage and fortitude to finish “Psycho.” Director Gervasi and screenwriter John J. McLaughlin, who adapted the novel by Stephen Rebello, give us the most absorbing representation of Alfred Hitchcock to this date. They get Hitchcock just right, establishing him as a dedicated, determined filmmaker, a distant, flawed husband, and an all-around captivating human being.
Ahwatukee native and Desert Vista graduate Nick Spake is a student at Arizona State University. He has been working as a film critic for five years, reviewing movies on his website, NICKPICKSFLICKS.com. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.