If you have some knowledge about Alfred Hitchcock, his life, and his chilling masterpiece “Psycho”(1960), “Hitchcock” will not surprise you. It mainly shows what we have known and heard about him and his personal life and his movies, and, while it is interesting to see how he struggled to keep his artistic vision intact during his small but daring attempt at that time, the movie mostly stays on the level of mild amusement as revealing nothing new or revelatory about what made Hitchcock tick. You may be disappointed because of that, but, seriously, what can you expect if the movie is about a great pervert director whose life and works have been constantly and thoroughly studied and analyzed by countless scholars and critics for more than 40 years?
After its darkly humorous introduction a la “Alfred Hitchcock Presents”, the movie, which is based on the book “Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho” written by Stephen Rebello, begins the story in 1959, when Alfred Hitchcock(Anthony Hopkins) was at the peak of his career. Although he has just had another big success with his latest thriller film “North by Northwest”(1959), Hitchcock feels an urge to do try something new because he seems to be stuck in his comfort zone despite his accomplishment, so he starts to search for anything suitable for his purpose.
On one day, he comes across Robert Bloch’s morbid novel “Psycho”, which was inspired by a notorious real-life serial killer Ed Gein(disturbing Michael Wincott). Not only the book itself but also the gruesome and macabre details of Gein’s serial killing attract Hitchcock’s interest, so he decides to make a movie based on that novel although the people around him, including his wife Alma Reville(Helen Mirren), are not that pleased about his decision.
While he and others are going through pre-production phase, we see how much sensational “Psycho” were to the people even before the shooting began. The Motion Picture Production Code, whose permission was necessary for theatrical release by major studios during that period, immediately shows a string of objections as soon as they read the adapted screenplay written by Joseph Stefano(Ralph Macchio). During Hitchcock’s meeting with Motion Picture Production Code people, you may be amused by the fact that showing toilet on the screen was a taboo at that time even though the toilet in “Psycho” was used for destroying an evidence rather than our daily biological need.
Hitchcock also faces the finance problem as the Paramount Studio is reluctant about financing the production although all he needs is a small budget around $800,000(“North by Northwest” was made with around 3 million dollars, by the way). He eventually finances his movie by mortgaging his house, and the production finally begins under absolutely secrecy(you have probably heard that Hitchcock bought almost all the copies of Robert Bloch’s novel in US for preventing spoilers).
His wife Alma, who has been dutiful as his professional partner as well as his personal partner, stands by him as usual, but their relationship starts being strained as Hitchcock pushes the production. In addition, when Alma seriously considers working with a screenplay writer Whitfield Cook(Danny Huston) on a non-Hitchcock project, Hitchcock becomes jealous and obsessive as his dark fantasy represented by Ed Gein hangs around his sight, and that throws shadow of disturbance on the set of “Psycho”.
It is not easy to accept Anthony Hopkins as an iconic director like Hitchcock despite Oscar-nominated make-up, but Hopkins is a good actor, and he wisely channels Hitchcock’s familiar mannerisms while not resorting to cheap mimicry. We are frequently aware of him playing Hitchcock on the screen, but, through his nice performance, we also see that dry, courteous, and talented British gentleman who sublimated his dark inner impulse into great thriller films.
Hopkin’s co-star Helen Mirren does not look like Alma Reville either, but she is also good as a no-nonsense woman who has endured lots of things while living with a great artist and does not hesitate at all to express her frustration when she thinks enough is enough. Like many great artists, Hitchcock is a difficult guy to live with for many reasons including his famous obsession with blond ladies, but Alma knows that her husband is indeed a great artist and, above all, he always needs her. When it seems “Psycho” is a total failure, she immediately assumes her role as his enabler, and we see how “Psycho” was reshaped into a great film we know.
The movie could have shown more about that, but the production process shown in the movie is still engaging to watch none the less, and the director Sacha Gervasi assembled good supporting actors for his recreation. Scarlett Johansson is Janet Leigh, who faces the dark side of the director she admires during the shooting of that infamous shower room scene. She is shocked but she is not so angry because she has already been warned by her co-star Vera Miles(Jessica Biel), who knows several things about Hitchcock as an actress previously working with him. Toni Collette is Hitchcock’s loyal assistant Peggy Robertson, and Michael Stuhlbarg is his hard-working agent Lew Wasserman, and James D’Arcy is convincing as Anthony Perkins, whose unstable persona makes Hitchcock convinced that he finds a right actor to play Norman Bates. The movie also shows several notable people behind “Psycho” including Joseph Stefano, Saul Bass, Bernard Herrmann, and George Tomasini, but they do no more than passing by the story briefly as minor characters.
“Hitchcock” sets its goal on a modest level, and it does as much as it intended. I did not get any new insight or information about Hitchcock and “Psycho” after watching it, but this small movie works as an enjoyable fiction about a great director who comes to recognize the value of his lifelong partner and their enduring relationship/partnership, and I did enjoy the recreation of the making of “Psycho” in the movie. As I said, it won’t surprise you, but I think Mr. & Mrs. Hitchcock would be amused by this little film about themselves.
Has to be seen because of what it’s about.
SC: Please keep your expectation on mild level.