Director: Sacha Gervasi
Writer: John J. McLaughlin, from the book Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho by Stephen Rebello
Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Scarlett Johansson, Danny Huston, Toni Collette
Length: 98 min.
Some films carry a level of expectation that is almost impossible to surmount. Hitchcock – and the lukewarm at best critical response it has inspired – is a case in point.
For starters, the title misleadingly suggests a career-spanning epic, an all-encompassing portrait of the life of the Master of Suspense. Secondly, the novel from which this film is adapted, Stephen Rebello’s Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho, contains very few references to Hitchcock’s wife, Alma Reville, yet the film is as much about her as it is her eccentric husband. Meanwhile, a number of fascinating Psycho-related tidbits in Rebello’s book don’t feature in John J. McLaughlin’s script.
Hitchcock’s genius for and influence on filmmaking, combined with his idiosyncrasies and often scandalous relationships with his female stars, means audiences expect a great deal from a movie that promises to explore these rich subjects. Disappointment seems almost inevitable.
This is unfortunate, because Hitchcock is a highly entertaining film.
The 98-minute running time should signal to viewers that director Sacha Gervasi has fashioned a more intimate and focused film than the title suggests. Hitchcock pushes many of the myths aside and places the making of Psycho (1960) almost to the periphery as the film narrows in on one particular character trait of the great director: his constant craving for acceptance. This approach demands a greater understanding of and far more significant role for the long-suffering but totally supportive Alma, the one person who always believed in him.
Because the film delves into Hitchcock’s psyche it finds freedom in dabbling with postmodernist cinematic trickery instead of remaining tightly moored to the facts. Scenes in which Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins) metaphysically interacts with real-life serial killer Ed Gein – upon whom the novel Psycho was loosely based – are directorially clever and disturbing.
This surrealist approach allows for further incorporation of subtle (and not-so-subtle) references to Hitchcock’s filmmaking style and back catalogue. His opening monologue, directed at the camera as he sips tea and Gein brains a man with a shovel, successfully recreates Hitchcock’s love for intertwining the humorous with the macabre while also mimicking the direct-to-camera addresses that would precede his films on their theatrical release.
With his documented eccentricities and iconic silhouette, Alfred Hitchcock’s persona – whether accurately portrayed or not – has become so well-known over the years that it is now almost caricature. Anthony Hopkins embraces the caricature, delightfully, in such a way that Hitchcock’s brilliance remains just beyond our full understanding. However, with the lesser-known and more pragmatic Alma (Helen Mirren) serving as a vital foil to this larger than life protagonist, Hopkins also manages to bring the man closer to earth. Scarlett Johansson and James D’Arcy are superbly cast as Janet Leigh and Anthony Perkins respectively.
Hitchcock is not the serious, weighty biopic that typically finds favour with awards bodies and critics, and at times its historical accuracy is questionable. If you can leave your preconceptions at the door, however, it is an enjoyable and thought-provoking romp.