Hitchcock was a very enjoyable film, especially if you like Hitchcock. It’s not really profound or anything, they do the normal “behind every man is a great woman” thing, which is fine, but the really fun stuff is just seeing Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins) himself, and all of the Hiitchcock related things that happen throughout the film.
The film opens with the premiere of North By Northwest, the picture Hitch made previous to Psycho. It was a giant success, but Hitch seems to think he was just playing it safe on that one, and is looking for something different for his next picture. When a reporter at the premiere asks him “why doesn’t [he] just quit while [he’s] ahead?” Of course, that puts him into overdrive. He hits upon Psycho, a novelized version of the crimes of an actual man, and finds exactly what he’s looking for.
Now we go into the making of the film itself. Writing, casting, shooting, visiting the censor (“only thing worse than going to the dentist”), advertising, and finally moving on. The film is not, nor is it intended to be, a Hitchcock biopic or a “making of” movie of Psycho. It’s described as: “A love story between influential filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock and wife Alma Reville during the filming of Psycho in 1959,” per imdb, and that’s basically what it is. I don’t know how accurate it is, but somehow I doubt that it would have been as movie-like as Hitchcock is. It’s basically that Hitch and Alma (Helen Mirren) grow apart, then come back together to finish Psycho in time, it’s a rousing success and Hitch finally respects her and everything etc, etc… Very common scenario, but it’s really the characters that we want to pay attention to.
Hitchcock, even in this film, is pretty strange. You’d guess he’d have to be a little off to make a movie like Psycho in the first place, especially given that it couldn’t be counted on to make a lot of money like it could if it was made now. A weird thing that Hitchcock does is it creates Ed Gein, the real-life Norman Bates, as a sort of Hitchcock hallucination. Whenever he gets stressed out, he literally talks to Gein throughout the shooting of Pyscho about his problems. Gein seems normal enough, but of course there’s his dead bodies to contend with. Hitchcock seems to identify with him on some level, but maybe he’s just watching him because that’s what Hitch does.
Then there’s the whole “Hitchcock and blonds” thing. Of course this comes across with Janet Leigh (Scarlett Johansson) and this creates tension with Alma. The whole thing is kind of hard to explain, but Vera Miles (Jessica Biel) puts it very well by saying he’s basically like Jimmy Stewart in Vertigo. It’s like an attraction, followed up with a desire for control, and finished off with betrayal. This doesn’t really go anywhere with Leigh in this one though; they seem to have a pretty professional relationship. The most intense things that happen are Hitch pretending to stab her when they are shooting, and her driving him home one day. That’s it. No creepy possessive stuff really, but you do get a glimpse of that more with Vera Miles. Vera Miles was in The Wrong Man with Henry Fonda, and was supposed to have Kim Novak’s part in Vertigo, but declined because she was pregnant. Hitchcock then saw this as a betrayal, and only gave her a smaller part in Psycho because she was “still under contract, we might as well get some use out of her.” He is obviously has a lot of animosity for her and she has more insight into the darker side of his character that Leigh never really gets.
But most of all, beside being creepy, Hitchcock is hilarious. Every time he goes to the censor board he had me laughing so much. It’s annoying, based on today’s standard of what is acceptable, how much stuff this guy wants to censor. The toilet flushing scene for instance, because it’s so immoral to flush paper down a toilet. Stealing money from your employer, fine, but flushing a toilet, anything but that! Hitchcock has a snappy answer for everything this guy wants to throw out of the film. My favorite one was him saying the fear instilled during the shower scene would be downplayed by “the lyrical score.” Because the theme from Psycho is just so lyrical and all. They did a homage to Alfred Hitchcock Presents as well, by having him introduce and close the film as he did on the show. That was pretty much the only good part of that show, when Hitch came on. Though there is no clever commercial set-up, the ending of the film is so funny (hint: it involves a bird).
The casting was very good in that they had all of the actors (possibly with Biel as the exception) resemble the real actors from Psycho. James D’Arcy in particular was very good as Anthony Perkins, I wish he was in the film more. He doesn’t look exactly like him, but his manner of speaking and acting was spot-on. Scarlett Johansson was good as well, at first she didn’t look much like Leigh but then they changed her hair which helped. She didn’t really sound like her much, but they showed the shooting of the scene where she was driving in silence, and her facial expressions really did look pretty close to Leigh’s. (I’ve only seen Psycho once, so maybe a more familiar viewer would feel differently.) Hopkins was wonderful as The Master of Suspense. Similar to D’Arcy, he didn’t look exactly like him (pretty close though), so you knew that it wasn’t actually him, but his voice was crazy close. When he was doing a voice over I literally could not tell the difference. When I got back home I watched one of the Hitchcock openers from Alfred Hitchcock Presents to check, and Hopkins really nailed him. The accent, the way he pauses while he’s speaking, was exactly the same.
Hitchcock was really good, but the love story they were trying to present, while touching in a way, was nothing new. The highlight for me was geeking out over all of the Hitchcock stuff that was happening, not the love story plot. Seeing the filming of the shower scene, first meeting Anthony Perkins, the battles with the studio and the censors, and Hitchcock himself were the parts I connected to more. I think it is worthwhile for every Hitch fan to see this film. However, if you are not a Hitch fan or go into it hoping for a big romantic story, you may be disappointed.
“That, my dear, is why they call me the Master of Suspense.”
Long story short: 2.5/4 stars