Like any film geek, I am a pretty big fan of Hitchcock. I’ve only seen 19 of his films (not even half). Obviously, I’ve seen his most popular, with the exception of NOTORIOUS and SPELLBOUND. I really need to get on that. My favorites are REAR WINDOW and NORTH BY NORTHWEST. But I also tremendously love PSYCHO. This movie is actually about the making of PSYCHO. It’s not a bio-pic. I do want to add that this is mostly a work of fiction. Not much in the movie actually happened the way it happened, so I’m going to review the movie on its own and not review how historically accurate it is (which is what some critics are tending to do).
Like I said, this is about the making of PSYCHO. Hitchcock has just received lots of success with his last picture, NORTH BY NORTHWEST. He’s a little burnt out at this point and is looking for something that will challenge him. He reads a novel that was inspired by the Ed Gein murders. Everyone around him thinks it’s trash, especially the studio execs who refuse to finance the film. Hitch himself puts up the money. His wife, Alma, is 100% behind him. She understands him. But his obsession with getting the film done gets in the way of their relationship. It also doesn’t help that a mutual screenwriter friend, Whitfield Cook, is possibly trying to seduce Alma, which she may or may not be aware of. This story is more about the strain the making of PSYCHO had on Hitch’s marriage, than the making of the actual movie.
At a breezy 97 minutes, this movie was really easy to sit through. It opens with a wonderfully strange sequence, which has Ed Gein killing someone with a shovel, then the camera pans over to Anthony Hopkins as Hitchcock (kind of like in his television series) to explain to the audience that without these murders, we wouldn’t have “our little movie”. It was the perfect way to start. Being a film geek, I was fascinated watching all of the behind-the-scenes stuff (even if it wasn’t really true). It was fun seeing how he cast the film, worked with his crew and argued with the studio. But at the heart of the film is the relationship between Hitch and Alma. The characters were a hoot to watch interact with each other. They’ve known each other for so long, and they understand how each one works. According to this movie, Hitchcock might have been the driving force, but Alma was the voice of reason behind-the scenes. At one moment in the movie, she even takes over directing when her husband is too sick to get out of bed.
I also loved how all the supporting characters were used. It was neat seeing Hollywood stars portraying Hollywood stars. Hitch’s relationship with Miles was interesting to me. She clearly is not the biggest fan of him, and one wonders what happened on the set of THE WRONG MAN (their first collaboration) to make her feel that way. I also wonder if that’s how it really was…. but it doesn’t really matter. The film is good regardless of what was right and what wasn’t. If there is a weak point in the story, it would probably be the subplot involving Whitfield and Alma. I’m not sure the movie really needed the added tension of the possibility of Alma starting an affair. It’s all done well, but maybe unnecessary. Some people will be bothered by this more, but for me it was just a very minor gripe.
The makeup team did a bang-up job making Anthony Hopkins look exactly like Alfred Hitchcock. I would never have thought to cast Hopkins as Hitchcock. But besides looking like the iconic filmmaker, he gives one of the years best performances. Hopkins has his mannerisms, vocal patterns and ticks down to an exact science. Sure, you can hear Hopkins’ voice underneath, but I believe he truly captured the essence of the man. It’s a crowning achievement. Helen Mirren is fantastic per usual. She plays Alma kind of the same way she played The Queen, with dignity and vulnerability. The filmmakers did a great job peppering the film with an eclectic supporting cast. Scarlett Johansson is terrific as Janet Leigh. She looks very much like her and even gets Leigh’s monotonous speech patterns right. Jessica Biel, Michael Stulhbarg, Toni Collette all do fine work. James D’Arcy is amusing playing Anthony Hopkins as a bundle of homosexual nerves. Danny Huston is doing his usual sleazy, smarmy thing as Whitfield, and succeeds. It was awesome to see character actors that you normally don’t see in films anymore, like Ralph Macchio, Richard Portnow, and Kurtwood Smith. And what a pleasure it was to see Michael Wincott in a theatrical film again. He’s one of my favorite actors and does some good work here in a brief role as Ed Gein.
Director Sacha Gervasi made a splash onto the film scene with his wonderful Documentary ANVIL! THE STORY OF ANVIL (which made my Top 10 in 2009). His first fiction film is impressive. Instead of a straight forward narrative, he tended to go for something a little different as Hitchcock constantly talks to an imaginary Ed Gein while making his film. It’s a nice touch that ensures the viewer that this shouldn’t be taken as a serious piece of history. Gervasi also comes up with some creative “birds-eye-view” shots that Hitchcock himself would be proud of. He still has a style of his own, but he probably would’ve been an idiot if he didn’t take at least a couple of visual cues from the master of suspense. Danny Elfman’s score is one of his best in a while, perfectly emulating the work of Bernard Herrmann.
If you’re looking for a historically accurate film or looking for some revelation as to how Hitchcock worked, you might be disappointed. But if you want a well crafted, marvelously acted, fun piece of fluff that has one of the most well-known directors in film history as the lead character, you’re in for a real treat. It may not be the best film of the year, but it’s certainly one of the most watchable, anchored by a stunning performance by Hopkins. ★★★½ (out of ★★★★)
– Rated PG-13 for some violent images, sexual content and thematic material.
– Running time: 1hr 37min.