Hitchcock offers a great look at movies but misses on the man
Alfred Hitchcock is one of the most well-known movie directors of all time, famous for films such as Rear Window, Vertigo, North by Northwest and Psycho. His personal life is not quite so clear, although many have attempted to delve into his rocky marriage and predilection toward working with blonde women.
Both sides of the man are explored in Hitchcock, taking a look at Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins) as he attempts to make Psycho, arguably the greatest movie of his career. By his side, as always, is his wife, Alma Reville (Helen Mirren), who works tirelessly behind the scenes while getting little official credit.
Every time Hitchcock turns away from Psycho, it suffers.
First-time feature director Sacha Gervasi and screenwriter John J. McLaughlin (Black Swan) split time between the making of Psycho and the growing discord between Hitchcock and Reville.
Reville chooses to spend more and more time trying to write a new, non-Hitchcock screenplay, while Hitchcock’s battles with the studio, the ratings board and his actors threaten to derail Psycho at every turn.
It might have been a mistake to have Psycho serve as the film's core. Psycho is so iconic that there is an inexorable pull on everything around it, making all other goings-on close to inconsequential.
Hitchcock’s marital troubles could very well be immensely interesting, but they pale in comparison to the issues he had making one of the best films of all time. Every time Hitchcock turns away from Psycho, it suffers.
At the same time, because half of the film is about Hitchcock’s personal life, it seems that his professional demeanor is given short shrift. There are many moments that demonstrate his unyielding attitude, but that’s all they are — moments.
Whatever the faults of the plot, the acting is almost universally great.
Lip service is paid to how hard he was on his female actors like Janet Leigh (Scarlett Johansson) and Vera Miles (Jessica Biel), but it’s never truly explored. His battles over budget and editing are entertaining but ultimately leave you wanting more.
Whatever the faults of the plot, the acting is almost universally great. Hopkins brings the director to life fantastically, especially considering he had to be covered with facial and body prosthetics to portray the portly Hitchcock.
Mirren, despite an underwritten role, shines in whatever scene she’s in. Johansson and Biel earn marks in roles that could be tough to pull off otherwise.
Others, such as Danny Huston, Toni Collette and Michael Stuhlbarg, are a pleasure to see in their relatively small parts.
Although it’s difficult to separate any person’s personal life from their professional one, more of an effort should have been made with Hitchcock. It’s just no use trying to flesh out Hitchcock’s marriage when you have Psycho looming in the background.