Starring Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Scarlett Johansson, Danny Huston, Toni Collette, James D’Arcy, Jessica Biel and Michael Wincott
Written by John J. McLaughlin based on the book “Alfred Hitchcock and the making of Psycho” by Stephen Rebello
Directed by Sacha Gervasi
New this week in theaters, opening exclusively at the Varsity in Toronto and expanding nation-wide in the weeks to come, from Fox Searchlight comes Hitchcock. The biopic about the master of suspense himself Alfred Hitchcock, despite the inference of title, is not a story of the man and his life, but the shooting of his seminal film Psycho and his relationship with his wife and most trusted collaborator Alma Reville.
Hitchcock starts at the premiere for Alfred Hitchcock’s (Hopkins) North by Northwest. With the media convinced that the director’s best days are behind him, Alfred sets his wife Alma (Mirren) and assistant Peggy (Collette) on the lookout for his next project. Hoping to get his script in contention Whitfield Cook (Huston) shows up and starts sweet talking his former flame Alma. Meanwhile Hitch becomes enamored with the new book based on the real story of serial killer Ed Gein (Wincott), who Hitch sees as a manifestation during the filming, entitled Psycho. Against the wishes of the studio, his wife and everybody else, Hitchcock embarks on adapting the story and getting it committed to film. But the studio, his health, his former starlet Vera Miles (Biel) and current starlet Janet Leigh (Johansson) may all conspire to get in the way. And Whitfield may have other plans for Alma.
Hitchcock is far from an in depth, hard hitting biopic, but almost immediately the audience realizes they are in for a more whimsical and light hearted treatment. Hopkins is memorable as Hitchcock, like his Nixon he does not completely disappear physically into the role, but uses his performance to allow the audience to buy into the character. That said it’s Mirren and her portrayal of Alma that steals the show. Her Alma is a confident and strong woman who is long overdue for her room in the spotlight after all the work she has done in her husband’s career, and sensing this Huston’s Whitfield attempts to take advantage. The rest of the supporting cast is quite good here, with Johansson doing some excellent work as Leigh and Biel possibly doing here best work in ages as Vera Miles. The decision of including Ed Gein as a character in the film is far-fetched and would have been terribly out of place if the performance by Wincott wasn’t so accomplished. His Gein makes you yearn for a biopic of his own on the serial killer.
The script plays it light in tone and strives more for comedic beats rather than hard hitting, dramatic interpretations. More “My Week with Marilyn” than a straight biopic, Hitchcock only serves to explain and enact the period in 1959/1960 surrounding the filming of Psycho and not much else. The characters are fleshed out well here, though the script does manage to stay close to the surface throughout, not delving too deeply into any of the relationships besides Hitch and Alma’s. And other characters, like the studio head for example, are more caricatures than characters. The film would be better suited with a title that exudes this whimsy and tone rather than the more serious sounding Hitchcock.
Kudos must be given however to the team behind the film as the set design and decoration, costuming and cinematography are all fantastic. The film looks phenomenal and provides an exceptional peek into the work of producing a feature film in the late 1959 studio system. From the small housing offices for the production and the soundstages to the vintage vehicles and decor of the Hitchcock home, the film doesn’t miss a beat. The film will not surprise me at all if Oscar comes calling in February rewarding the fine work here with some technical nominations.
Audiences going into this film expecting a warts and all telling of Hitchcock’s life and loves will be disappointed with this effort. But audiences willing to go with the tone and playfulness of the film and really invest in the performances, especially Hopkins, Mirren and Wincott, will be satisfied with the effort. Despite its flaws, Hitchcock is indeed a recommend.
Till Next Time,
Movie Junkie TO
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