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Judy Thorburn's Movie Reviews

Hitchcock | Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Scarlett Johansson, Jessic Biel, Toni Collette | Review

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'Hitchcock', which stars Anthony Hopkins in the title role, is not a biopic of the legendary, portly British director known as the Master of Suspense.  Rather, this docudrama recounts what happened behind the scenes and on the set of his 1960 horror flick Pyscho, along with a peak inside Hitchcock's relationship with his wife and film collaborator, Alma Reville (Helen Mirren).

In 1959, after the Hollywood premiere of Alfred Hitchcock's film North by Northwest.  Hitch (as he was referred to by those close to him) was eager to start on another project, but wasn't happy with the scripts Paramount handed him.  He believed the studio wanted him to do the same thing over and over, but the filmmaker was eager to do something different and feel the freedom of taking a risk like he did early on in his career.

After reading the Robert Bloch's novel Psycho, inspired by the real life heinous murders of Wisconsin serial killer Ed Gein, Hitch was determined to make that story into a movie against the objections of his agent, Lew Wasserman (Michael Stuhlbarg), loyal assistant Peggy, (Toni Collette) and the studio's president, Barney Balaban (Richard Portnow). Initially, even his supportive wife and long time collaborator, Alma (Helen Mirren) who he depended on for professional advice, was skeptical and needed to be convinced. When she does come around, her input as script revisionist and editor proves to be a much needed, valuable asset.  She was even capable of filling in as director when her husband became ill and needed to stay in bed and recover at home.

Directed by Sacha Gervasi (“Anvil: The Story of Anvil), from a screenplay by Jon J. McLaughlin (2010's "Black Swan) based on Stephen Sebello's book “Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho”, the story follows Hitchock's struggle with Paramount executives who finally agree to distribute the film but refuse to finance it, forcing the director to take a loan out on his house to finance the production himself. Then, while trying to shoot the film, he found himself engaged in a fight with the censor board over the famous shower scene, that in reality, only “suggested” nudity and extreme, graphic violence.

Speaking of suggestion, according to this script, it is suggested that Hitchock and Alma had a sexless marriage. They slept in the same room, but in separate, single beds, and are shown lacking any real physical intimacy. Hitchcock was not an easy man to live with. Alma put up with her husband's obsession and flirtations with his blonde leading ladies although they never amounted to anything more than emotional fantasies. Not a warm and loving individual, Hitch was stricken with jealousy when he suspected Alma was having an affair with Whitfield Cook (Danny Huston), a handsome, younger writer who gave her attention, purpose, and was fun to be with, while her husband was busy with the making of his horror flick.

Portraying the stars of Psycho are Scarlett Johansson as Janet Leigh, Jessica Biel as Vera Miles and James D’Arcy as Anthony Perkins.  Each are adequate in their respective roles. However, except for D'Arcy, who bears a slight resemblance to the actor that portrayed Norman Bates, the actresses look nothing like their real life counterparts.

Hopkins, hidden behind heavy prosthetic makeup and a fat suit, does a fine job of capturing Hitchock's body language, vocal intonations and low key persona. And director Gervaci adds a clever element by having the camera shoot Hopkins on several occasions in the filmmaker's signature profile pose.

But, it is the wonderful Mirren that steals the film as Hitch's devoted, smart, strong, life partner away from the public eye, who was an important influence on her husband's craft and personal life.

Hitchcock may not be a great flick, but movie fans are offered an interesting, if not suspenseful, 98 minutes of cinema, that lends some insight into the master filmmaker's creative process behind Pyscho, as well as his mindset and personal life. More than that, this fact based story confirms that behind every successful great man, there is usually a great woman. That about says it all.


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