Make no mistake, the 2012 film Hitchcock is not a biopic about the acclaimed director. Based on the non-fiction book Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho by Stephen Rebello, the film tells the story of one of the director’s most famous films. I should say the film is loosely based on that book, because Hitchcock is a fictionalized version of that story with a few realities thrown in. While it’s an entertaining enough movie, I was left with the feeling that I would have rather seen the true account. It would have been more interesting to learn something real about the director and his struggle to make a violent (for its time) horror film in the days of the production code. In the end, Hitchcock left me feeling a bit empty.
In 1959 Hitchcock owed Paramount pictures one film under his contract with them. He was desperate to make a horror film based on Robert Bloch’s book Psycho; however, the studio was reluctant. The material was too violent and seemed too lightweight to be taken on by a serious director like Hitchcock.
Still wanting to move forward, Hitchcock offered to finance the film himself. This much is in the movie; however, from there the film takes off on its own trajectory, imagining Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins) as a tormented soul, obsessed with getting into the mind of a killer like the one in his movie. The killer Hitchcock becomes enamored of is real-life serial killer Ed Gein, the man who inspired the Psycho novel.
The film cleverly opens with a depiction of Gein killing his brother. Hitchcock steps in with commentary as he did for his television show Alfred Hitchcock Presents. This sets a kind of surreal fantasy tone for the film, which is fitting because that is what this film ultimately is. In the film, Hitchcock often imagines himself talking to Gein, even utilizing Gein as his own therapist. Hitchcock is troubled in his real life because he feels he is getting old and irrelevant to the film industry. He’s also worried his wife Alma (Helen Mirren) is having an affair with her friend Whitfield Cook (Danny Huston). In turn, Alma is upset with her husband for flirting with his leading lady Janet Leigh (Scarlett Johansson).
This all sets up a lot of drama for the story, but there is no evidence these emotional problems existed in Hitchcock’s real life. Unfortunately the making of the film starts to take a back seat to everything else going on, becoming less interesting as a result. It was much more fun to see Hitchcock wrestling with the studio over showing a toilet on screen (something that was done for the first time with Psycho), or how they planned to shoot the infamous show scene with no nudity. We don’t get to learn anything about the actors involved in the film. Though Alma is jealous of Janet Leigh, the character barely makes an impact in the film. Neither does Anthony Perkins (James D’Arcy), who shows up eager to play the part, but is barely seen again.
Hopkins does a good job of evoking the famous Hitchcock persona. He has the voice and delivery nailed. I wasn’t blown away by the performance, but it was good. I think what was missing was some excitement. Since the film was taking a fantasy look at the legend of Hitchcock, rather than the real man, they could have gone further with the surreal tone. They should have concentrated on the making-of aspect of the film, rather than the melodrama of marital problems. I found the storyline revolving around Alma’s suspected affair or not to be the weakest. Considering this was a completely fabricated element, I’m not really sure why it was a part of the story. Surely there could have been other ways to introduce some drama into the story. Hitchcock has some clever scenes that capture the spirit of Hitchcock, but the whole thing is dragged down by useless melodrama.
The Blu-ray is presented in a 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer. The film, which was shot digitally, looks as good as expected for a recent production. The clarity and definition is top-notch. Close-ups on faces particularly show fine detail (but the Oscar-nominated makeup on Hopkins remains seamless). The sound is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround. Nothing particularly struck me about the audio presentation, but I have no complaints about the quality. The dialogue is clear and easy to understand. The surrounds are filled with soft ambient tones such as waves hitting beach or rainfall, but nothing especially bracing or surprising.
Special features are fairly standard. There is a single deleted scene, with an expanded sequence of Hitchcock talking to Ed Gein on the therapist couch. There is an informative commentary track from director Sacha Gervasi and author Stephen Rebello. The rest of the features primarily consist of making-of featurettes and short EPK pieces. The most substantial featurette is the half hour “Obsessed with Hitchcock,” which covers the production of the film. Also included is the humorous cell phone PSA shown in movie theaters shortly before the film was released.
Ultimately, Hitchcock is a disappointing film. It was easy to watch and held my attention, but it didn’t stick with me. In the end I found it very underwhelming. It didn’t hit me as an effective surreal/fantasy take on famous director, but there wasn’t enough substance to make it good historical fiction.