Murder. Some say that desire to kill lives deeply within all of us, and nobody would agree more than Alfred Hitchcock. From screenwriter John J. McLaughlin (Black Swan), based on the novel Alfred Hitchcock And The Making Of Psycho by Stephen Rebello, Hitchcock explores the genius, the passion, and the madness behind one of the most creatively peculiar directors of our time, during production of his 1960 film Psycho. The film comes from first-time director Sacha Gervasi, whose previous writing credits include 2004’s The Terminal, starring Tom Hanks. And while Psycho has gone on to become a classic of modern cinema, the story behind its production and Hitchcock himself has been widely unknown.
Played brilliantly and almost unrecognizably by Academy Award® winner Anthony Hopkins, his transformation into the iconic director is one of the finest performances I have seen. There is a fine line between impersonating and personifying, and Hopkins achieves the latter. From his voice, body language, and stature, to his trademark suited attire, every detail was perfect. And while Hopkins may not be a dead wringer in facial appearance, the makeup work was very convincing without appearing prosthetic. It left me wondering if Hopkins had really put on a tremendous amount of weight for the role. And while much of Hitchcock’s success was attributed to his quirky sense of humor, constant need to reinvent himself, and unusual methods, the secret was actually his wife Alma Reville, played by Academy Award® winner Helen Mirren. Alma contributes her own creative talents as a writer, editor, and even director when Hitchcock is away. Mirren commands the screen in this role, refusing to be overshadowed by her husband’s success. The on-screen chemistry between Hopkins and Mirren is never sexual in nature, but displays a different and deeper kind of love: one for collaboration. But Hitchcock’s obsessive nature and inner turmoil to stay relevant drives his wife away to work on another project with Whitfield Cook, played by Danny Huston. It is not until late in the film, when initial reactions to Psycho are poor and Hitchcock feels as though he has failed, that he finally recognizes the contributions his wife makes on his behalf.
Hitchcock features a supporting cast that is as strong as the leads. Scarlett Johansson portrays Janet Leigh, the newest blonde bombshell in Hitchcock’s film repertoire. She does very well in the time period, and I believe this is her best performance yet. Her innocence upon being cast in the role and eventual terror during the shower scene in Psycho feel very genuine. Also hidden in plain sight is Toni Collette, playing Hitchcock’s right-hand woman Peggy Robertson. Peggy is Hitchcock’s script supervisor and research assistant, maintaining composure and professionalism as her boss works tirelessly at perfection. I found this to be a very interesting role for the Australian actress, whose voice was unidentifiable beyond her looks. Her character serves as a protector to Hitchcock’s work, and in many scenes she helps maintain balance. In smaller supporting roles were Jessica Biel as Vera Miles and James D’Arcy as Anthony Perkins. Vera’s character is finishing out her last film under contract with Hitchcock, expressing frustration at her casting as a minor character, and lending caution to Leigh about not letting Hitchcock take over her career. A good, but restrained role for Jessica Biel, who usually plays the sexy leading lady in romantic comedies. And though his scenes are brief, D’Arcy does a fantastic job as Anthony Perkins, displaying a shyness that perfectly represents his role as Norman Bates.
While the film delivers on its performances, it surely does not disappoint from the technical end either. Two-time Academy Award® nominee Jeff Cronenweth, ASC (The Social Network) lends his creative talents as director of photography. As one of my favorite cinematographers, this film is a bit of a departure from his previous work with director David Fincher, but still relies on very unique camera angles and movements. Four-time Academy Award® nominee Danny Elfman (Edward Scissorhands) provides the score, having previously adapted the original Bernard Herrmann score to Psycho for the remake in 1998. Elfman is no stranger to movies with eccentric characters and themes of murder, as he is the exclusive composer for director Tim Burton. I thought his score was a great match for the tone of the film.
Overall, I was very impressed with Hitchcock. Having not been alive during his lifetime, my only impressions of him were from his films and clips of his show. I learned a great deal about the man, his personal life, and the production of Psycho that I had never known or even heard before. I think many will be surprised to see just how involved his wife really was with the production of his films, and to see that perhaps some of his genius may have been hiding an internal struggle. And I found the presentation of the film, beginning and ending as though it were an episode of “Alfred Hitchcock Presents:”, as a very unique and clever touch. I feel this movie will be a big contender this awards season, both for its acting and technical merits. Hitchcock earns my highest recommendation.