The man responsible for North By Northwest, The Birds, and Vertigo, The Master of Suspense earned his name crafting taut thrillers that shocked audiences in their day, his work still felt in the modern thriller and horror films of today. Director Sacha Gervasi set about honoring the man himself with his biopic Hitchcock, an entertaining romp through one of Hitchcock’s biggest challenges in his career: Getting his adaption of the book Psycho to the screen.
Donned in a fat suit and a prosthetic double-chin, Anthony Hopkins plays the famed director, joined by Helen Mirren (The Queen) as Hitchcock’s wife, Alma Reville. Following the opening of North By Northwest in 1959, Hitchcock finds his pick of future projects not all that enticing. Eventually, he comes across a copy of the Robert Bloch’s book Psycho, an account of infamous serial killer Ed Gein (the same serial killer who would inspire not only Hopkin’s famed character in Silence of the Lambs, but also Leatherface in Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre.) The suits in charge of Paramount Pictures are not thrilled with Hitch’s new project, so the director decides to finance the film out of his own pocket, using his television crew from Alfred Hitchcock Presents to shoot it.
Alongside the struggles of getting Psycho to the big screen, Hitchcock and Reville’s marriage hits a rough patch. Hitchcock’s infatuations with his actresses – in the case of Psycho, Janet Leigh, played by Scarlett Johansson – drives Alma to a friend of the couple, screenwriter Whitfield Cook (Danny Huston). The pair work on a script at his beachfront cottage while Hitchcock struggles to put together what would be his best known work. Hitchcock finds out about Alma’s visits, and their marriage comes to a head. Eventually they move past it, and complete Psycho.
One recurring bit of the film has Hitchcock chatting it up with Ed Gein (Michael Wincott) in fantasy sequences, where he observes Gein and tries to understand what drove him to murder and sleep with the corpse of his mother. You would think this would be distracting, but it really isn’t. Hitchcock, while still a drama, is sprinkled with darkly humorous moments that highlight the famed director’s eccentricities. It can be a bit corny at times, though.
The actors do pretty well embodying their real-life counterparts. Hopkins as Hitchcock is steller; you forget that the man who brought Hannibal Lecter to life is playing The Master of Suspense. He brings unrestrained joy and vulnerability to the character of Hitchcock, and gives the film an air of twisted fun. Mirren is excellent as Hitchcock’s long-suffering wife, acting as both a foil and a partner-in-crime to Hopkin’s Hitchcock, but also bringing home Alma’s frustrations with Hitchcock’s obsession with his leading ladies. Johansson as Janet Leigh is pretty good, although her portrayal of Leigh as a good-hearted dream girl is somewhat off. Johansson’s Leigh is almost too perfect, always skirting the edges of the tension between Alma and Hitch and avoiding the conflict entirely, departing a little wisdom in the process.
Hitchcock isn’t a perfect retelling of the making of Psycho or an accurate portrayal of Hitchcock’s relationship with his wife; very few biopics can claim 100 percent accuracy. But Hitchcock is an okay movie, and a treat for any film fans. Just don’t expect too much. 5/10