“Hitchcock”, in part, tells the story of the making of Alfred Hitchcock’s most controversial and most successful film, “Psycho”. It also portrays a period of strain in his marriage to his wife, Alma Reville, brought on by the Great Director’s obsession with the project.

Featuring two awards calibre performances by Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren in the lead roles, “Hitchcock”, I’m sad to report, is weighted down by some unfortunate creative choices and (ironically for a film about Hitchcock) an overall lack of suspense.

In 1959, Alfred Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins) released “North by Northwest” to great success and acclaim. Yet he tired of doing the same sort of movies over and over, and wanted to push his boundaries creatively. That same year, Robert Bloch released his novel “Psycho”, inspired by the infamous Ed Gein, a murderer and grave robber whose heinous activities had been uncovered a scant few years prior. The novel crossed Hitchcock’s desk, and he immediately embraced it as his next film. “Psycho” was an extraordinarily controversial choice of material to make a film of, especially at the time. Murder, cross dressing, voyeurism, grave robbing… these topics were completely shocking during the propriety of the late 1950s.

Which is precisely what drew Hitchcock to the material.

Of course, Paramount had severe issues with the film. When they balked at greenlighting it, Hitchcock was forced to self finance, which included mortgaging his home. He also had a lengthy battle with the ratings board over the content of the film. Add on the struggle to actually make a good film, and Hitchcock was left with his hands full.

All of this drew his attention away from his wife and behind the scenes collaborator, Alma Reville (Helen Mirren). As she faces her own apprehensions about aging, her attention is drawn away by a man named Whitfield Cook (Danny Huston), who wants her to collaborate with him on a screenplay… and may want more. This dalliance disturbs Hitchcock, and a marital dispute ensues. Alma is frustrated by being shut out of the creative process on Psycho, and Hitch’s obsessions with his leading ladies (In this case Scarlett Johansson as Janet Leigh and Jessica Biel as Vera Miles), and he worries that she may be having an affair.

At the center of “Hitchcock” are two fantastic performances. Helen Mirren’s turn as Alma Reville has already scored her nominations from the Screen Actors Guild and for the Golden Globes. The Academy will most likely follow. It’s not a flashy role, by any means, but she does a fantastic job displaying her emotions while still keeping them tastefully constrained. She also makes for fantastic fun, watching her character put the great Alfred Hitchcock in his place. As for Hitchcock himself, he was always droll in the public eye, and Hopkins’ portrayal carries that temperament through his daily life as well. Thus it’s not the most expressive role of his career, certainly, but it is an excellent onscreen impersonation.

Fans of the film “Psycho” will be entertained by the behind the scenes portions of the film, but regrettably, there’s not enough to that story to make an entire film of it. The marital strife between he and Alma is well done, but again, it never really rises to the level of high drama, in spite of the remarkable performances. There’s simply not a lot of weight to the material here. It’s entertaining to me as a fan of Hitchcock, and as someone who finds the story of the making of Psycho fascinating but I wonder what if any value this would hold for people who aren’t fans.

Finally, there are some really poor artistic choices made here by director Sacha Gervasi. Gervasi came to my attention with the remarkable “Anvil: The Story of Anvil”, and I was happy to see him making the transition from documentaries to feature film. He gets in his own way more than once, though, mainly during the conversational “visions” that Hitchcock has with Ed Gein throughout the film. They really serve little purpose (except perhaps to elicit sympathy for one of the most notorious serial killers in history) and undercut the realism of the rest of the material. He could have just as easily left it to the audiences imagination as to what Hitchcock saw in the material, it’s not that difficult to see.

So, in spite of the great performances submitted by Hopkins and Mirren, I would have a hard time enthusiastically recommending “Hitchcock” to anyone aside from ardent Hitchcock fans.


39 thoughts on “Hitchcock

    • Yeah, I can see how it would disappoint people… pretty easily, actually. I suppose I should have said even for Hitchcock fans, I would qualify my recommendation.

      Mirren and Hopkins were great though.

  1. Here’s my question:

    Does the awesomeness of Hopkins and Mirren outweigh the dreadfulness that is Johansson and Biel?

    I’m not a Hitchcock fan to begin with, due to my being born on the better side of the 90s, so I won’t go see this, but it might be worth a rental, eh?

    • Johansson was excellent, actually. She mimicked Leigh well, which was all she was really called upon to do. Biel has like five or six lines, tops. She didn’t bother me either.

      I have a feeling the very sight of them might trigger some animosity for you though, Livi, am I correct? LOL

      • You are correct, Fogs. More like “puking in my antique goblet that I just found behind the fridge” kind of animosity though. Very extreme, and almost irrational, except if I had been born looking like them it would be more toned down.

        Also, I choked on a cracker this morning and now have a sore throat, so I’m feeling especially bitter towards them right now. And don’t bother telling me that doesn’t make sense, I know it doesn’t.

    • Its not as if this film is a referendum on the issue or anything… and technically he never makes a pass at either of them. Its more of a… almost a crush or an obsession.

      Its not heavily focused on in the film… its a factor in the greater picture, thats all.

      • OK. There was this Tippi Hedren book so maybe I’m mixing the two together. She made claims he was trying it on all the time.
        Check out page 2 of that link. Cool photo!

  2. I was concerned that there wasnt enough of a story surrounding that relatively narrow portion of his life, compared to some Biopics that cover a career, as Robert Downey Jr and Chaplin come to mind. I generally find the glimpses into the creative process more compelling than just hurdles to construction and there just wasnt enough meat here.

    • They… might have mined more out of it, if the production had been more troubled. Pre production was rough on them, but then it seemed the actual making of went relatively smoothly. What drama they interjected there actually seemed a little overblown anyhow. 😦

      I had thought with all the scandal there might have been more to it.

  3. I agreed that the love story aspect wasn’t that revolutionary or exciting. The Ed Gein thing also kind of mystified me to be honest… he doesn’t seem that much like Norman Bates now that I think back and I’m just wondering how the heck that happened….
    Anyway I thought the acting was great (Biel didn’t seem like Miles that much to me, but I’ve only seen Psycho once so…). Since I’m a Hitchcock fan I was really excited to see this film and I had a fun time with it. I loved all the Hitchcock stuff that happened!!!

    • There were a number of cool moments within. I was really happy seeing all the Psycho stuff (well, most of it. They picked the wrong time to get “Artsy” during the shower scene)

      The Gein stuff was puzzling. I thought it was a terrible choice… From my understanding, he was just a jumping off point for Norman Bates. An inspiration. Cause you’re right, they’re not all THAT similar.

  4. Yeah…been hearing bad things. People have likened it to last year’s Iron Lady–good performances, yet poor film.

    This confirms my choice to wait until DVD–sad because it is a cool premise.

    Later! 🙂

  5. Liked the movie a lot but agree on the Ed Gein scenes. They’re not needed. Gave this a 9 even with the thick slice of ham Hopkins served up. (I can almost see Charles Laughton doing the part.)

  6. A bit disappointing when you take into consideration the fact of how lightweight this flick about one of the greatest directors of all-time truly is, but it’s still fun and entertaining to watch, if only for the performances and behind-the-scenes views. Good review Fogs.

  7. I’m a big fan of Alfred Hitchcock, so I know I will eventually see this one, but after reading some reviews I think I’ll wait until DVD. Nice review.

    • Well… dont get me wrong. It’s the main framework of the story. It’s set during the making of Psycho. Yet, the truth is they deal with his relationship with his wife and her relationship with her screenwriter friend quite a bit, and neither is related to making the movie. You know? Hard to explain, but the interpersonal dramas taking place while the movie is being made seemed to overshadow the making of Psycho stuff, for me. 😦

  8. Awesome review! I’m really looking forward to this one. The trailer looks great and I’m a huge fan of Psycho this movie scares the shit out of me.

    They really should make separate film about Ed Gein. That dude inspired so many cinematic psychos, the filmmakers really owe him a good movie based on his life.

    • There’s a bad one out there. Actually, I shouldnt badmouth I havent seen it… but lets say there’s a low budget one out there “Ed Gein”, I believe its imaginatively called. LOL

      Psycho is a great movie, I love it too, and I did enjoy all the making of elements that were involved here. Some of the rest of it was a bit muddled and dull though 😦

  9. The real problem here is that if you want to get to know Hitchcock, you’re better off just watching Hitchcock films. Hitchcock itself tells you little that you can’t learn from watching Psycho or Vertigo or Rope or Strangers on a Train or North By Northwest; just that “Hitch” is an insecure young boy at heart who needs Alma but can’t admit it because of that British stiff upper lip.

    I loved Hopkins here and I had a ball watching him chew up the scenery, and of course Mirren is always a pleasure to watch, but this is incredibly skippable.

    • Sad, isnt it? I feel like those two performances got wasted. 😦

      Yeah, they definitely did take the long way around to illustrate that ” “Hitch” is an insecure young boy at heart who needs Alma but can’t admit it because of that British stiff upper lip.” didnt they? Its too bad. It was a bit of a let down.

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