Hitchcock (2012) / Drama

MPAA rated: PG-13 for violent images, sexual content, thematic material, and language
Running time: 98 min.

Cast: Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Danny Huston, Scarlett Johansson, Toni Collette, Jessica Biel, Michael Stuhlbarg, Richard Portnow, Michael Wincott, James D'Arcy, Kurtwood Smith, Ralph Macchio
Director: Sacha Gervasi
Screenplay: John J. McLaughlin (based on the book, "Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho", by Stephen Rebello)
Review published December 13, 2012

Hitchcock 2012 Anthony HopkinsHitchcock is a look into a period in the life of famous and highly influential director Alfred Hitchcock from 1959, the time of the conception to make Psycho into his next film after North by Northwest, to 1960, the time shortly after its official release. As a director, Hitch, as he was affectionately called by those who knew him, was a rarity in that he became as much of an instantly recognizable media figure as many of the popular actors and actresses who would star in his films. Thematic motifs resonate throughout Hitchcock's many works, many which are generally considered to be beliefs and obsessions that the man himself possessed, such as fear of authority, fascination with murder, and the elusive chase of the chic, high-class blonde.

Taking this look into the psychology of the man himself, Hitchcock, the movie, imbues his characterization as a mix of his public persona, the one that has become generated through behind-the-scenes anecdotes, and the Hitch that many film scholars and historians have come to know about him through studying his works. Although the film claims to be taken from the book by Stephen Rebello, "Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho", and it is in terms of the actual production re-enactments, the film is full of creative license, especially in terms of the interpersonal relationships between Hitchcock and those around him, which is mostly what the film revolves around.

1959's North by Northwest had been a smash hit for Alfred Hitchcock (Hopkins, Thor), as well as for MGM, and the director was riding high with its success. However, while many were clamoring for more of the same from Hitchcock, the critics were claiming he had been making and remaking this same film for a while, and that he was on the decline creatively. Not sitting well with one of the men who invented modern cinema, Hitchcock decides to make a film that would break modern convention, going against the grain while the attention was on him to make the most unlikeliest of box office successes, an adaptation of Robert Bloch's "Psycho". The studio execs at Paramount, to whom Hitchcock is under contract, are more than a bit concerned, refusing to even indulge in such a scandalously distasteful idea for a movie (sex, voyeurism, transvestitism, and disturbing violence and murder being the primary subject matter). Hitchcock takes a bold chance by financing the film himself, securing Joseph Stefano (Macchio, My Cousin Vinny) to come up with the screenplay, and the usual assistance by Hitchcock's frequent collaborator and main idea echoer, his wife Alma (Mirren, State of Play). Alma is a talented writer, and at this point in her career, she is yearning to step away from her husband's monumental shadow and do something on her own.

In addition to Alma's absences as she works on a screenplay treatment of her own for seemingly flirtatious friend Whitfield Cook (Huston, Wrath of the Titans) -- a man-about-town to whom Hitch has jealous suspicions, having previously provided writing for the script to Hitch's Strangers on a Train and Stage Fright -- Hitchcock has his hands full in continuing to deal with his cast's questions, studio meddlers, and the censors who find nearly everything, including the bathroom toilet, objectionable to put on the big screen. Both Hopkins and Mirren are excellent in their roles, though the latter is certainly more sassy and vivacious than the real Alma Reville had been known to be. In fact, neither actor looks particularly like their real-life counterparts, so some disbelief suspension does get called into play, especially in the facial features of Hopkins, though it doesn't help that the prosthetics do detract somewhat from the overall look. But their roles are indeed well-rounded, so even if they don't reflect their actual speech and mannerisms, they are sufficiently consistent enough to work with the screenplay at hand.

Hitchcock not only deals with the making of Psycho, but ties most of it up into the relationship between Alfred and Alma, and dramatically heightens her importance to him as a creator and auteur. Much of what we see transpire between Hitch and Alma is pure fiction, dramatic liberties in order to bolster not only the psyche of the rather enigmatic director, but also to give some importance to Hitchcock's main creative consultant who was vitally instrumental in his success.

Though dramatic license does abound, particularly in Alma's role in all of this, both as collaborator and as Hitchcock's wife, the real quandary in the film is the introduction of Hitchcock occasionally having conversations with Wisconsin serial killer Ed Gein (Wincott, What Just Happened), who was one of the influences on Robert Bloch's book.  Although the film is ultimately a bit fluffy to take as anything more than consummately made entertainment, director Sacha Gervasi (Anvil: The Story of Anvil) does a masterful job in keeping the tone of the film both light throughout, especially as the film does deal with some rather dark subject matter, including some graphic depictions of Gein's amoral depravity.

Like most of Hitch's works, the serious moments are tempered with a good deal of comic relief, and the film is bookended with the kind of droll, black humor that Hitchcock had delivered so infamously at the beginning and end of each episode of TV's 'Alfred Hitchcock Presents." The film keeps this buoyant and mischievous voice from beginning to end, which makes it as fun and mysteriously witty as Hitch's public persona itself.
Qwipster's rating:

©2012 Vince Leo