While Hitchcock, the new biographical film directed by Sacha Gervasi, gives us little insight into the mind of the “master of suspense”, Alfred Hitchcock, it does provide an inside view of the making of his most celebrated film, Psycho. The creation of this classic horror film, depicted unsuccessfully here in a film-within-a-film concept, offers glitzy glamour, name-dropping pizazz, and the fascinating business and techniques of movie making. The creation, however negotiable, of Psycho’s classic “shower scene”, a movie scene that will be studied by film enthusiasts for as long as there are movies to watch, makes the film an enjoyable if trivial entertainment.
The film goes to great lengths to define the relationship of “Hitch” (a rotund and seriously pouted Anthony Hopkins) and his wife/collaborator/editor, Alma Reville (Helen Mirren looking at least a decade younger than her 67 years), but fails to reveal them as anything but an aging and dear old couple, harboring the slightest suggestion of psychological abuse inflicted by Hitchcock and flirtations with his leading ladies. The relationship is coy and ill-defined. Separate single beds and late night chats in the bedroom do little to clarify it.
The film fares better as a roving Hollywood eye detailing the business and trauma of the creation of Psycho.The movie-making backdrop scenes are the engine that keeps the film from being swallowed whole as a tepid Hollywood biopic. Excursions into character development lead down stray paths as movie moguls pressure Hitchcock to produce a money-making movie, and the great director becomes increasingly obsessed with the real-life inspiration of Psycho, murderer Ed Gein. Here, as Hitchcock imagines consultation with the deceased Gein regarding the direction of the film, the movie loses momentum and only flirts with the motivation of Hitchcock’s mind.
However, Hitchcock retains an entertaining value for the Hollywood, if not Hitchcock, subject matter alone. Scarlett Johanson is a pleasure to watch as Janet Leigh, playing the tragic anti-heroine of Psycho, Marion Crane. Johanson nails the look and manner of the sexy Leigh, and she does a dead-on impersonation of Leigh in the Psycho scene where Marion’s stream-of-conscious thoughts are heard aloud, as she drives off to a date with death at Bate’s Motel.
While Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren are merely pacified caricatures of The Hitchcocks, their performances are splendid to watch. Hopkins boasts a solemn and thoughtless physical stance with searching, even greedy eyes, that capture Hitchcock’s hunger for perfection. Mirren reveals a strong and secretive woman whose adoration and commitment to her husband is evident in longing and sad gestures. Jessica Biel as real life actress Vera Miles, and James D’Arcy, as Anthony Perkins, the original Norman Bates of Psycho, add to the fun of celebrity portrayals with perfected mannerisms.
While a genuine impression of Alfred Hitchcock may lean more towards a Hollywood Babylon expose than this celebrity biography, Hitchcock is still an enjoyable romp through Hollywood lore.