You know, I just love movies about making movies. That’s one reason I thought the movie “Hitchcock” would be right up my alley. Another reason is that it’s about one of cinema’s greatest directors – Alfred Hitchcock. Yet another reason I was interested was because of the fantastic cast specifically Anthony Hopkins as Hitchcock and Helen Mirren as his wife Alma Reville. These and several other yummy ingredients had me really hungry for this film and after seeing it I can say that it’s quite satisfying.
But enough with the gastronomical analogies. “Hitchcock” takes place during the filming of arguably the director’s most popular and groundbreaking film “Psycho”. The movie begins just after the release of Hitchcock’s wildly successful “North By Northwest”. He still owes Paramount Pictures another film but he’s struggling to find the right one. He also feels that the studios and press believe he is past his prime and he wants to pick a bold project that will prove otherwise. He finds himself attracted to a Robert Bloch novel titled “Psycho”. He convinces Alma and his agent Lew Wasserman (Michael Stuhlbarg) that it’s the right choice but he has a harder time with Paramount president Barney Balaban (Richard Portnow). They finally reach an agreement where Hitchcock agrees to fund the picture for 40% of the profits and a Paramount distribution.
It’s really fascinating to watch the behind-the-scenes process and how Hitchcock labored to make “Psycho”. But a bigger and even more enjoyable part of the movie focuses on Hitchcock’s relationship with his wife. Hopkins and Mirren are a joy to watch. The two veteran performers dissect this marriage with surgical precision, bringing out so many interesting aspects of it. There’s a clear love that they both share for one another, but there’s an equally clear strain on their marriage brought on by the financial stress of funding the movie and by Hitchcock’s own negligence, pride, and fear of failure.
Hitch is betrayed as a self-assured man on the outside but he clearly has uncertainties on the inside. He has a wandering eye for his leading ladies and has a tendency to overindulge in food and drink – something Alma stays on him about. Alma is a talented writer herself and her uncredited contributions to Hitchcock’s creative process prove vital. Her growing frustrations lead her to begin her own collaboration with fellow writer Whitfield Cook (Danny Huston), something Hitchcock disapproves of. All of these pressures begin to wear on Hitch and ends up threatening the completion of “Psycho”.
As I alluded to, one of the real strengths of this picture are the performances. Mirren rightfully earns her award nominations that she has received. Hopkins does a fine job fleshing out this complex director under a coat of heavy prosthetics. He nails all the mannerisms and postures and his speech is almost perfect. But there’s one thing I struggled with. I never could quite get past that I was watching him do Alfred Hitchcock. Take Daniel Day-Lewis’ performance in “Lincoln”. I was so drawn in by his work that I forgot I was watching an actor play Abraham Lincoln. I never quite got to that point here. Don’t misunderstand me, it’s not a bad performance by any means. But I never completely bought into the idea that I was watching Hitchcock on screen.
I also have to mention the other supporting performances that I really enjoyed. I’ve liked Michael Stuhlbarg since seeing him in the Coen brothers film “A Serious Man”. He’s good here too. I was also impressed with Jessica Biel as Vera Miles. She’s an actress I normally don’t care for but she gives a nice subtle performance that works really well. But an even bigger surprise for me was Scarlett Johansson as Janet Leigh. I’ve never been completely sold on Johansson as an actress but I love the Janet Leigh she portrays. She’s beautiful and sexy but she’s almost a stabilizing influence on Hitch. She’s a lot of fun to watch in the role.
“Hitchcock” has a hard time escaping that biopic feel but it’s still a really good film. I think my love for the director’s movies and my particular affection for “Psycho” added a sense of nostalgia to my viewing, but there’s a lot more to this picture than just that. There are many clever little inclusions that go hand-in-hand with Hitchcock. For instance look closely and you’ll find his shadowy silhouette that fans of his will instantly recognize. Then there’s the cool opening and closing of the film that hearkens back the “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” days. These nifty treats fit in well with the solid script and wonderful performances and anyone with the slightest interest should come away well pleased.