Directed By: Sacha Gervasi
Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Scarlett Johansson, Danny Huston, Toni Collette, Michael Stuhlbarg, Michael Wincott, Jessica Biel, James D’Arcy, Richard Portnow, Ralph Macchio
If you’re a sucker for horror and suspense, and have a serious soft spot for the art of making movies, “Hitchcock” is an absolute charmer, delivering the touching satisfaction of a romance, but in a wildly entertaining and somewhat brutal environment.
“Hitchcock” focuses in on Alfred Hitchcock’s (Anthony Hopkins) career just after releasing “North By Northwest” and moving on to his next project, “Psycho.” Even though the director has immense clout amongst the Hollywood community, many wonder why he doesn’t just retire at the ripe old age of 60 and go out on top, but even more so about why he wants to work with such violent material.
Support for “Psycho” is hard to come by and Hitchcock is left with no choice, but to strike a deal with Paramount – self-finance the film himself and defer his director’s fee in exchange for a percentage of ownership of the film’s negative and a distribution agreement. The studio finally gives him a reluctant thumbs up and Hitchcock goes to work.
While a great deal of “Hitchcock” covers the making of “Psycho,” the backbone of the film is Hitch’s relationship with his wife, Alma (Helen Mirren). Alfred Hitchcock may be the name in lights, but behind closed doors, he relies heavily on Alma’s writing abilities and guidance, so when he suspects she’s having an affair with her longtime friend and new writing partner, Whitfield Cook (Danny Huston), Hitch is crushed and his emotions affect the making of “Psycho,” a project that now not only puts the couple’s finances on the line, but their relationship, too.
“Hitchcock” may be billed as a drama, but it’s very much a romance and quite comedic, too. Director Sacha Gervasi establishes the film’s unique tone right from the start, opening with a murder and panning over to Hopkins’ Hitch for a traditional Hitchcock introduction. He’s soft-spoken and heartfelt, yet talks day and night about murder while being incredibly deadpan. He’s a fun, curious and often truly scary character, making him wildly intriguing to track.
But as much as Hitchcock’s personality traits contradict each other and as impulsive as he may be, you trust him because of Alma. Mirren’s Alma is the voice of reason and while that’s comforting, Hitchcock’s eerily playful attitude keeps you rooting for him. The magic happens as the story progress and eventually climaxes, proving that the two make a pitch perfect pair, and when that happens it’s almost overwhelmingly delightful.
Even with Hopkins and Mirren firmly in the spotlight, the “Hitchcock” supporting cast members almost all get their time to shine. Toni Collette functions more as a set piece than anything as Hitchcock’s assistant, Peggy Robertson, but similar to Mirren, Collette manages to infuse the character with enough sensibility and warmth to give off a soothing sensation within the filmmaking madness. Whitfield Cook, on the other hand, is a bit of a cliché charmer and then Danny Huston puts on an average performance, leading to one of the film’s sole faults, the fact that Alma seems too smart to fall for Whitfield, even for a moment.
Scarlett Johansson and Jessica Biel don’t get all that much screen time, but both do manage to make a strong impression and in very different ways. Biel’s Vera Miles and Hitch have a troubled past, which leaves Hitch very resentful. The relationship has quite the arc and while it’s only a sub story, it’s done in such a beautifully subtle way that it makes for a nice little bonus payoff. Johansson’s Janet Leigh gets a little bit of her own, showing how Hitchcock fancied his leading ladies, but it’s Leigh’s involvement in “Psycho” and her working relationship with Hitch that’s far more profound.
We get an extra perspective of Hitchcock via Michael Wincott’s Ed Gein, the serial killer who inspired Norman Bates. Gein and Hitchcock often interact in a dream-like state through which Gein serves as a warped advisor. Wincott absolutely nails the role, creating an unnerving calm when Gein is in control, but also seamlessly transitioning to becoming a downright disturbing force.
It’s easy to toss around words like disturbing, eerie, murder and violence when Alfred Hitchcock is involved, but, it turns out, the film version of a portion of his life is incredibly enjoyable and surprisingly heartwarming. Gervasi infuses the film with a great playful energy, but never lets it undermine the gravity of the situation. The Hitchcocks could lose their home and careers, and they can also lose their marriage. The lows never hit rock bottom so as to drag down the mood, but they make you concerned enough that when things are looking up, you truly can’t help, but to smile.