Although it is being pushed as heady Oscar fare, Hitchcock is a little too bizarre and too goofy to find itself seriously in the running for Best Picture. I’m not complaining; I am a fan of bizarre, goofy movies, and I like this one. I just don’t think it’s going to take home a bagful of awards.
As this film explores the making of Psycho—Alfred Hitchcock’s biggest risk as a filmmaker—Hitchcock takes a few enjoyable diversions. It contains a blast of a performance from Anthony Hopkins as Hitch, with Helen Mirren perhaps outpacing him as Hitchcock’s wife, Alma Reville. The film has a surface sheen to it, seemingly placing more of an emphasis on Alma’s possible love affair with a fellow writer (Danny Huston) than on the making of Psycho.
Still, when it’s dealing with Psycho and the mechanics of making a movie, Hitchcock is a lot of fun. Hitch and Alma must mortgage their house to finance Psycho themselves when studios pass on the project. That really happened.
Sacha Gervasi (the documentary Anvil: The Story of Anvil) directs from a script by John J. McLaughlin (which, in turn, is based on Stephen Rebello’s book Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho). McLaughlin takes on some factual angles, such as Hitchcock’s running problems with Vera Miles (an excellent Jessica Biel) and his struggles with his weight.
Then there are the slightly oft-kilter embellishments, like Hitchcock’s imagined discussions with real-life serial killer Ed Gein (a perfectly cast Michael Wincott), on whom the book Psycho was loosely based. Seeing Hitchcock and Gein in the frame together having a conversation is welcomingly bizarre. Had the two ever spoken, I imagine it could’ve gone the way it does in this film.
Scarlett Johansson captures the allure and sweetness of Janet Leigh, who withstood the torturous shower scene and was back to smiling shortly thereafter. It’s no secret that Hitchcock had troubles with his leading ladies. (HBO’s recent The Girl chronicles this fact with Tippi Hedren.) Johansson’s Leigh treats the job like nothing but a job, and shares little beyond gratitude and candy corn with her boss.
Hopkins—wearing a decent-looking fat suit and makeup, and employing just enough of Hitchcock’s nasally voice—delivers work that captures enough of Hitch’s characteristics without being a full-blown impersonation. His Hitchcock is obsessive, funny and sometimes a little sad and lonely. Hopkins does a remarkable job of delivering myriad Hitchcock moods without really changing the expression on his face.
Mirren brings a nice, dry wit to Alma, who reportedly helped rewrite and direct Hitchcock movies without screen credit. When Alma and Hitch risk it all to make a slasher movie nobody seems to want, Mirren delights in portraying the rush Alma must’ve felt when throwing all caution to the wind.
James D’Arcy provides a convincing Anthony Perkins, who, of course, played Norman Bates. D’Arcy gets Perkins’ mannerisms just right, to an extent that I wish there were more of him in the film. According to the Internet Movie Database, Andrew Garfield had been considered, but couldn’t take the role due to scheduling conflicts. That would’ve been interesting.
This isn’t a flattering picture of one of cinema’s most influential and masterful directors. It isn’t a smear job, either. He’s seen as a relatively insecure man who maintains his sense of humor while obsessing over blonde female leads and occasionally stuffing his face to get back at the wife. Some of that is probably stretching the truth. Did Hitchcock hallucinate about Ed Gein while filming Psycho? Did he peer at his female stars through a hole in the wall, as does Norman Bates in Psycho? Did he need to hide his wine-drinking and snacking from his domineering wife? I don’t know. I do know that it makes for a moderately fun movie.
For such a hefty subject, Hitchcock is surprisingly lightweight. It is also undeniably enjoyable.
Hitchcock is now playing at Camelot Theatres (2300 E. Baristo Road, Palm Springs), UltraStar Mary Pickford Stadium 14 (36850 Pickfair St., Cathedral City) and Cinemas Palme d’Or (72840 Highway 111, Palm Desert.