If you love movies, Hitchcock is hard to resist. It paints an evocative picture of Hollywood and the methodology of filmmaking, circa 1960, while offering juicy roles to Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren, two of the finest actors on the planet. With tongue in cheek, as befits its witty subject, the movie blurs the line between the public Hitchcock and the private man. John J. McLaughlin’s screenplay also takes considerable liberties with the facts, especially when it speculates about the director’s private life…even his dreams and nightmares.
For that reason, one must approach Hitchcock as a piece of entertainment and not a documentary; in that context, it delivers the goods. Hopkins doesn’t look or sound exactly like Hitch, but he creates a persona that suggests the great man and wins us over. Since most of us never knew his wife Alma Reville, Mirren has a freer hand and makes the most of it, indicating at various times the love, respect, and frustration she feels for her lifelong partner.
Hitchcock focuses on the filmmaker’s daring decision to make Psycho, a precedent-shattering horror movie, and his wife’s flirtation with a charming screenwriter (played by Danny Huston), which she pursues in part to punish her husband for his selfish ways.
Scarlett Johansson makes a delightful Janet Leigh, who manages to skirt her director’s attentions off-camera, while Jessica Biel plays Vera Miles, who feels the brunt of Hitchcock’s wrath after her pregnancy scuttled his plans to star her in Vertigo. Toni Collette is also well cast as Hitchcock’s loyal secretary.
I feel bad for the families of various people depicted here, not the least the Hitchcock clan, because it’s clear that director Sacha Gervasi and screenwriter McLaughlin felt no constraints, except for the scenes that deal directly with Pyscho, drawn from Stephen Rebello’s landmark book Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho. I strongly question whether Hitchcock was haunted by the figure of Ed Gein. I have no way of knowing how faithful they are in their portrayals of such notable behind-the-scenes figures as Barney Balaban, Lew Wasserman, and Geoffrey Shurlock, but I would be wary. Here they’re just characters in a movie.
What matters is that Hitchcock pays tribute to a loving marriage and partnership, an unsung heroine named Alma Reville, and a great filmmaker who had faith in his own ideas even when no one else did. Those qualities are rooted in truth and give the movie its foundation and impetus. Hitchcock is fun to watch, so enjoy it for what it is.