Reviewed by Kevin Finnerty
“You are intrigued, aren’t you? Killing off your leading lady halfway through the movie,” says Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins). “You shouldn’t kill her off halfway through, you should kill her after the first thirty minutes,” replies Alma Hitchcock (Helen Mirren) as the old married couple discuss the next film the great director Alfred Hitchcock is going to make in the dramatic film, Hitchcock.
With the big success of his film North by Northwest, Hitchcock is looking for something very different for his next project and his interest is piqued by the novel Psycho inspired by the horrific murders committed by Ed Gein in Wisconsin. It’s no surprise that no one is excited about Hitch’s choice, including his own wife Alma who would rather have him working on her friends Whitfield’s (Danny Huston) new screenplay. But Alfred is convinced that the moviegoing public is going to be drawn to the shock and horror of Psycho and is determined to make a film completely different from anything he has ever made before.
Charming and funny, Hitchcock is a film that tells a fairly interesting story but is elevated by strong performances. Sir Anthony Hopkins gives another Academy Award-worthy performance as the brilliant director who made what many consider one of the most horrifying movies of all time. He almost completely disappears into the role of Hitchcock, showing perfectly the man’s dry wit, strive for perfection, and humorous mannerisms.
Helen Mirren is wonderful as Alma Hitchcock, the devoted and at times under-appreciated wife and partner to the famous director. Mirren conveys both the deep feeling and respect she feels for Alfred and the contempt and jealousy for never quite getting any real credit for all the hard work and great ideas she brings to her husband’s films. The scene where Alma walks on set while Hitchcock is out sick, throws the movie studio’s producer with his fill-in B-grade director off the set and takes charge – improving on a scene her husband couldn’t get right and had struggled with days earlier – is a true delight.
Scarlett Johansson is the biggest and best surprise in the film, flawlessly portraying Janet Leigh. Looking almost identical to the beautiful and talented actress, Scarlett plays Leigh as an elegant, charming and determined actress who finds working with the iconic Hitchcock to be the highlight of her career and the filmmaker himself a sweet and unique man.
The production design and look of the film is great and captures the era of the late 1950s and 1960s perfectly.
The only flaw with the film is the tedious sub-plot of the ever-possible affair between Alma and Whitfield and Hitchcock’s growing suspicions of it. It adds nothing to the drama and struggle the great director went through to make his famous film and finally slows the pacing to an almost unbearable crawl before getting back on track.
Hitchcock is a humorous and clever film, with Hopkins capturing just enough of the eccentric, madness and wit of the man it’s based on to have the audience yearn to go back and watch some of the classics by the master of suspense – classics that include Rear Window (my personnel favorite), Strangers on a Train, and, of course, Psycho.
Hitchcock was directed by Sacha Gervasi and is rated PG-13 for some violent images, sexual content and thematic material.