Going into this film I found myself somewhat unaware of what to expect. While I have seen the occasional Hitchcock film, I am by no means an expert on his catalog of film and TV episodes. What I did end up seeing was quite the pleasant surprise.
This is a movie which takes a slice out of Hitchcock’s (Anthony Hopkins) life during the time he was making the movie Psycho. Now instead of us getting a docudrama on the making of the movie, we are instead given a glimpse into the mind of the man behind the camera. Along the way we meet his wife, Alma Reville (Helen Mirren), his steadfast assistant Peggy (Toni Collette), his agent (who would later become the president of Universal Studios) Lew Wasserman (Michael Stuhlbarg), the actress Janet Leigh (played brilliantly by Scarlett Johansson), Anthony Perkins (played to perfection by James D’Arcy), as well as Ed Gein (Michael Wincott) who was the inspiration for the character of Norman Bates from Hitchcock’s most famous film.
Hopkins is covered in an enormous amount of prosthetic makeup to try to approximate the appearance of the director, but if there is a flaw in this movie, it is in that the makeup doesn’t quite do the job. Having known what Hitchcock looks like I found myself at times (but not all of the time) distracted by what I was seeing on the screen. However, what was lacking in the makeup was more than made up for in the acting performance by Hopkins himself. He was able to get the rhythm and almost “sing-song” manner in which Hitchcock always spoke with. He was always known for having a certain way of phrasing sentences, and Hopkins managed to deliver it in a most convincing manner. It was mostly done through the acting as Hopkins’ voice is most unique and can be quite recognizable. During one part of the film I thought for a second that I wasn’t listening to Hitchcock, rather I was hearing the voice of Odin after having an all night binge eating of one of the many Asgaardian feasts that the Norse Gods must enjoy.
Perhaps it was only because I saw Hopkins in that role just one day earlier, but again it was only for a moment as he was able to deliver what he is best known for, and that is acting. He gives us a portrayal of a man who clearly has demons of his own, from an unhealthy way of ogling over women (usually blondes), as well as an insecurity which would forever haunt him and manifest itself with egotistical rudeness, all the way to having discussions with a rather unique therapist. It is in all these ways that we begin to get a sense of the man who was the creative genius behind so many movies, and probably gave us the first modern horror film.
Helen Mirren gives what she is only capable of giving, and that is a flawless performance of the woman who was not only Hitchcock’s wife, but also his rock. She’s the anchor which helps keep him grounded, even when overshadowed by his fame. Mirren shows us what it is like to be in such a position, what it can do to a person, as well as a marriage, and even illuminates us as to how much of a role she truly played when working with Hitchcock. She is graceful, and yet strong, all the while played with vulnerability which can only be accomplished by an actress of her caliber.
The two characters who sadly don’t get the screen time I would have liked are Scarlett Johansson as Janet Leigh, and James D’Arcy as Anthony Perkins. While Hitchcock was an iconic figure in terms of movie making, Leigh and Perkins were established actors in their own right with their own individual careers. Through Psycho we have come to know their acting and all of the nuances they each brought to their roles, so in some respect it is even more difficult to emulate such memorable characters, yet Johansson and D’Arcy do just that. Johansson looks wonderful as Janet Leigh, and the scenes she plays during the Psycho filming were truly haunting. It was almost as if I was watching the horror film myself. She captures the expressions, even the lift in Leigh’s voice.
As for D’Arcy, he nailed the nervousness that was Perkins, as an actor who had many similar qualities to the role that would forever dominate his career, as well as an actor who was desperate to hide what was back then a terrible secret. Not only was he able to move and speak with the same jittery nature that Perkins had, but the makeup on him was so convincing that when he first appears on the screen I thought they had cloned Perkins himself. It is my greatest wish that these two actors receive Oscar nominations for their amazing performances.
Hitchcock is a movie with many layers. It is sprinkled with plenty of humor, and yet it has scenes which feel like they could have been taken out of a Hitchcock movie itself. The director, Sacha Gervasi, may very well have been a student of Hitchcock when preparing to film this movie. Quiet scenes are filmed with a subtlety which is always associated with some of Hitchcock’s masterpieces, focusing the viewer’s attention on an object or a person, and then almost showing it as if we were seeing things through Hitchcock’s eyes. He was able to raise the tension in scenes, and then break that tension with a joke or sight gag which would leave the audience laughing. Keep your eyes on the sight gags. There are enough of them to keep you entertained and only enhance the enjoyment of the film.
What is most endearing is that this is a love story. In the end, it is about Alfred Hitchcock and Alma Reville, how through their struggles they manage to continue to trust and love one another in a way which can only help me to appreciate the great legacy of work that has been left to us. That is what this movie is. It is a love story, not just for the marriage and working relationship of what has turned out to be a filmmaking power couple in Alfred and Alma, but a love story to a specific style of filmmaking which can only be described in one word: Hitchcock!