Hitchcock (Fox Searchlight Pictures, PG-13)

film hitchcock_75In a lot of ways, Hitchcock isn’t quite so much about the making of Psycho as it is about the relationship between Alfred and Alma.

 

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Although it suffers from Lincoln syndrome (wherein it is a movie that sounds like it would be a biographical picture, but instead covers just a few scant months of its subject’s life), the new Sacha Gervasi film Hitchcock is an interesting, unusual piece. I bet a lot of people are going to hate it. Askew expectations regarding its content aside, it is both slight and weirdly silly. You wouldn’t expect that of a film about one of the most beloved filmmakers of all time, and especially not of a pretty high-profile release whose two leads are previous Oscar winners: Anthony Hopkins plays Alfred Hitchcock, and Helen Mirren plays his wife and collaborator, Alma Reville.

The tone the film takes might make more sense if one considers the fact that it was directed by the guy whose only previous directing credit is for the documentary Anvil! The Story of Anvil—which I incidentally adored—and the screenplay was written by John McLaughlin, who wrote Black Swan. It’s an adaptation of the Stephen Rebello book Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho, and that’s what the movie is actually about. Where Lincoln was really only about the passing of the 13th Amendment, Hitchcock is only about the making of Psycho.

While I’m glad that McLaughlin and Gervasi don’t take the usual route in making a biopic about someone as well known and admired as Hitchcock, the risks they take don’t always pay off. For example, a conceit that begins the film on Ed Gein’s farm (Gein being the real-life inspiration for Norman Bates, as well as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and even Buffalo Bill, the bad guy from that most celebrated of Hopkins’ films, The Silence of the Lambs) seems cool and interesting and funny at first, but when it becomes a device to show what’s going on in Hitchcock’s brain, it starts to feel forced and trying.

In a lot of ways, Hitchcock isn’t quite so much about the making of Psycho as it is about the relationship between Alfred and Alma, and here for the most part it succeeds. Hitch and Alma had been married for over 30 years at the time Psycho went into production, and while she was the most trusted of his collaborators (and hugely influential on the end result of his films; she deserves way more credit than she gets), one can only imagine the trouble that Hitch’s well-known taste for young blondes brought. This is only explored a little here (by two previous Esquire Sexiest Woman Alive winners, no less: Scarlett Johansson as Janet Leigh and Jessica Biel as Vera Miles, though Biel seems to be playing Mad Men’s Jessica Paré playing Megan Draper playing Vera Miles), and strangely, more screen time is given to a potential affair between Alma and Whitfield Cook (Danny Huston), a writer she’s co-authoring a screenplay with.

Given the nature of the movie and how culturally known its characters and actors (and director) are, a lot of the fun comes from the casting of these well-known actors of yesteryear, which Hitchcock by and large gets right. Hopkins, Mirren, and Johansson are all quite reliable as far as actors go, but the real scene-stealer here is James D’Arcy as Tony Perkins. He’s only in a couple of scenes, but you’re going to come out of the movie wishing there had been more of him and less winking nods to what a failure Vertigo was. | Pete Timmermann

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