“Hitchcock” Movie Review

     In much the same way last year’s “My Week With Marilyn” played out,  “Hitchcock” focuses on a specific time in the famous director’s life in which he had just completed “North by Northwest” and was looking at ideas for his next film.  That film, as we know, turned out to be “Psycho”, but you would never imagine how difficult it was for Hitchcock to get that film made in the late 1950s and early 1960s.  Anthony Hopkins shows off his incredible range as an actor, playing Alfred Hitchcock and Helen Mirren more than holds her own as the director’s wife, Alma.  First time feature director Sacha Gervasi also shows incredible skill in pacing the film without the support of Universal who owns the rights to “Psycho”.

     Based on a book by Stephen Rebello, we immediately realize Hopkins has all of the Hitchcock mannerisms down and the Oscar worthy makeup finishes off the look to a point where you really settle into the film and accept Hopkins as Hitchcock.  We first see the director is fascinated by the serial killer Ed Gein and the book written about his exploits which was titled “Psycho” as well.  In true Hitchcock fashion, he orders his production staff to ensure every copy of the book is bought from bookstores across the country, so no one will know how the story ends when he makes it into a film.  He goes to his studio chief with the idea of making a film about a serial killer who sleeps with his mother’s dead body and is harshly rejected.

     It doesn’t take long to realize Hitchcock was a man who was used to getting his way, so he decides to finance the film himself for $800 thousand, a laughable amount today for a studio film.  He makes a distribution deal with the studio and begins filming in exactly the way you would envision with an eye for detail and the ability to motivate actors in ways no one was likely doing at the time.  What we learn most from “Hitchcock” are the various idiosyncrasies the director had in his personal life and the role his wife played behind the scenes as somewhat of a muse.  If it wasn’t obvious already, Hitchcock had a problem with his weight and this was constantly monitored by Alma as she was always reminding him of the calorie content of the food and drink he loved to enjoy.  When Hitchcock found himself in a tough time, he went straight to the freezer and gorged on ice cream in the middle of the night, likely hoping to ease the stress of financially backing a film people said would fail.  Even the censors of the time threatened to not rate the film, meaning it couldn’t be shown in U.S. theaters.

     The film spends a great deal of time exploring Hitchcock’s obsession with his lead actresses much to the dismay of Alma.  It’s said James Stewart’s character in “Vertigo”, which is portrayed as a flop in this film, was based on Hitchcock’s own persona towards women and how he felt they should look.  “Hitchcock” is loaded with scenes that lend interesting tidbits to the audience.  No doubt a scene in which “Psycho” leading lady Janet Leigh (Scarlett Johansson) shares candy corns with Hitchcock is responsible for the treat being the favorite of Norman Bates. 

     After a failed screening, it is Alma who comes to the rescue and teams up with Hitchcock in the editing room for a recut of the footage and the inclusion of the now famous score by Bernard Hermann.  As a filmmaker, there’s nothing more satisfying than seeing the final product have its intended effect on your audience.  In a climactic sequence, Hitchcock playfully conducts the shower scene alone in the lobby of the theater showing “Psycho” for the first time.  Without seeing the screen, he knows ever slash and every cut and gleefully reacts as the audience screams in horror, as nothing like “Psycho” had even been done before.  Oh how sterile people’s eyes must’ve been back then!

     Both Hopkins and Mirren are surefire Oscar contenders.  The acting in the film is solid all around and the talent in front of the camera certainly carries the story.  Gervasi didn’t have the actual Bates Motel and Bates house set at his disposal and that’s a shame.  While they get along fine without it, the film doesn’t pack the visceral punch it could have with those authentic touches.  The script by John C. McLaughlin covers a very small part of the director’s career and thus lacks the epic possibilities  a film about Hitchcock could have produced.  Nonetheless, “Hitchcock” is a solid effort in true indie fashion and makes up what it lacks in scale with the true story of a famous filmmaker’s wife coming to his rescue.  Alfred Hitchcock got all of the credit, but could he have accomplished all that he did without her?  GRADE: B+