As our movie starts, it’s 1959 and Alfred Hitchcock’s North By Northwest is seeing it’s premiere to resounding success. As Hitchcock and his wife, Alma, are leaving the premiere, Hitchcock is asked about his age and maybe now should be the time when he steps down from directing as he goes out on a high. This sparks something within Hitchcock; an urge to re-invent himself with his next movie, though for the moment he’s stuck for what that next project will be. Hitchcock finds himself attracted to Robert Bloch’s newest book, Psycho which is all about the grisly case of mass murderer Ed Gein. He’s bound and determined to make this his next film, over objections from nearly everyone around him, including the head of Paramount Pictures. What follows is the story of how Hitchcock made Psycho and re-invented the horror genre, all while facing problems that he was starting to have with Alma.
That’s the nutshell premise to Hitchcock from director Sacha Gervasi. It’s a pretty good film overall that to me seems more at it’s best when it’s dealing with the making of Psycho than when it deals with Hitch’s and Alma’s personal situation (as well as Hitch’s obsession over his leading ladies).
I’ve not read the book this is based on (Stephen Rebello’s Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho) so it’s hard for me to say if the personal scenes between Hitch and Alma are actually accurate. They come off as more theatrically broad than the vision of Hitchcock that I personally have and just sort of seem very forced. There’s a scene that involves Hitch having his own frustrations, walking out to his swimming pool and seeing the mess that it had become. Hitch takes a net for cleaning the pool and starts to swing it around in a way that just comes off as cartoonish. Maybe this did actually happen, but for me it just sort of seems to force dramatic histrionics on the man. The movie places heavy importance on Alma’s contributions to Hitchcock’s career to the point where it almost seems to undermine Hitch’s own genius. For some, this might be right on the money, but for myself, it was more of a distraction more than anything else.
Even with that said, it’s still a pretty entertaining film, and Anthony Hopkins as Hitch and Helen Mirren as Alma do their best to elevate this specific material beyond the TV movie level. To me though, this is way more entertaining when it deals with the actual making of Psycho and scenes around this are real gems. Scenes showing how both writer Joseph Stefano (Ralph Macchio) and Anthony Perkins (James D’Arcy) got their jobs are absolutely terrific as are scenes that deal with such things as the infamous shower scene and Hitch’s dealings with Paramount to get the film made.
For the most part, I think Hopkins does a pretty decent job with the part (though my own first choice might’ve been to have someone like Paul Giamatti play the part). Hopkins really shines with scenes that have Hitch interacting with Janet Leigh (Scarlett Johansson) and Vera Miles (Jessica Biel), but more on them shortly. Mirren’s Alma, is a little more glamorous than what I’ve perceived the real Alma Reville to be. She seems more at home in the scenes that she has with Danny Huston who’s playing writer Whitfield Cook, who wrote Strangers on a Train for Hitchcock, than she does with Hitch himself. That’s certainly by design for this film’s purpose, but as I said above, it doesn’t exactly seem right.
For me, the real surprises in the cast are Scarlett Johansson and Jessica Biel. Johansson’s Janet Leigh is spot-on perfect and she catches your attention every time she’s on screen. I’ve not exactly been the biggest fan of Jessica Biel in the past, tending to think that she’s been more miscast in parts that I’ve seen her in, but here, she’s quite the revelation in her portrayal of Vera Miles and as far as I’m concerned she holds her own with Johansson and just demands your attention when she’s on screen.
Even with my problems with the film, I still thought it was pretty entertaining and certainly well worth seeing. Hopkins and Mirren do good work, though it’s somewhat stunted by the TV movie aspects of the portrayal of their relationship. Hitchcock is at it’s best though when it’s dealing with the actual making of Psycho itself, and within that, you’ll see some very cool moments highlighted by stellar performances from Scarlett Johnasson and Jessica Biel. If you are a fan of film history and more a fan of Hitchcock (my own personal favorite movie of all time is Hitchcock’s Vertigo), then this is certainly worth viewing, though you may want to just wait until it hits cable or streaming rather than run right out to theatres to see it.