|FOX SEARCHLIGHT/SUZANNE TENNER|
From left, Scarlett Johansson, Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren are shown in a scene from "Hitchcock."
Alfred Hitchcock is perhaps the most well known filmmaker of all time. Anyone into movies is in some way familiar with the Master of Suspense. Even someone who somehow has not seen one of his many classics probably recognizes his famous profile in silhouette or his slow, ominous, British-accented manner of speaking or maybe the theme music of his TV show, "Alfred Hitchcock Presents."
But for all his fame, we know little about the man himself. "Hitchcock," from director Sacha Gervasi ("Anvil: The Story of Anvil," 2008) tries to rectify that, giving us a peak into the relationship between Hitch (Anthony Hopkins) and his wife, Alma Reville (Helen Mirren), in 1959 during the making of "Psycho."
Coming off of "North by Northwest," the pinnacle and most extravagant of his "man on the run" movies, Hitch longs for a return to his filmmaking roots, when he wasn't weighed down by big budgets and bigger stars. He fixates on "Psycho," a novel inspired by real-life killer Ed Gein. Paramount Pictures executives are less then enthused about producing a picture of murder (including the death of the supposed heroine after only 30 minutes), matricide and crossdressing.
"Are you sure about this?" asks the director's assistant, Peggy Robertson (Toni Collete). "It's just so unlike you."
"That," Hitch replies, "is exactly the point, my dear."
Production quickly gets under way—only after Hitch and Alma finance the film themselves—with a cast that includes Janet Leigh (Scarlett Johansson) as the doomed Marion Crane, timid Anthony Perkins (James D'Arcy) as Norman Bates and Vera Miles (Jessica Biel), who Hitch has resented ever since she got pregnant and dropped out of his "Vertigo" a couple years earlier.
The enormous financial risk, coupled with Hitch's unending obsession with his leading ladies (the "Hitchcock blondes," as they are known), puts great strain on a marriage that already seems cold and passionless (they sleep in separate beds and appear to have little physical contact). Alma finds herself spending more and more time at a beach house helping friendly Whitfield Cook (Danny Huston) adapt his latest novel into a screenplay, igniting Hitch's suspicions.
Professional concerns eat away at Hitch, as well. At 60, has he reached the end of the line as a relevant filmmaker? Stress leads to a few bizarre sequences in which Hitch unburdens his psyche to imaginary therapist Ed Gein (Michael Wincott), lending a little more weight to Norman Bates's famous line, “We all go a little mad sometimes."
Based on the 1990 book "Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho" by Stephen Rebello, with a screenplay by Jon J. McLaughlin ("Black Swan," 2010), "Hitchcock" unfolds without a sense of urgency, the relationship issues not coming across as dire enough to create any real suspense. And while Gervasi goes to great lengths to dramatize Hitch's anxiety over making "Psycho" and its eventual reception, it's problematic because we already know it was the biggest success of his career.
It falls to the actors then to carry the film, and Hopkins and Mirren are up to the task. Hopkins captures the essence of Hitchcock—his mannerisms, his speech pattern, his devious sense of humor—without resorting to outright mimicry, leaving room for his own interpretation. Less is known about Alma, which gives Mirren more freedom to create a character, a woman who is smart, supportive, capable and as stubborn as her husband. More than a wife, she was Hitch's collaborator, both on and off the set.
Though "Hitchcock" provides little new insight into the man of its title, it is valuable for finally giving the woman behind the man her due.
Greg's Grade: B
(Rated PG-13 for some violent images, sexual content and thematic material. 98 minutes.)