Directed by Sacha Gervasi, Hitchcock is based on Stephen Rebello‘s non-fiction book, Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho.
This tongue-in-cheek film adaptation, written by John J. McLaughlin, centers on the relationship between director Alfred Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins) and his wife Alma Reville (Helen Mirren) during the making of Psycho.
Gervasi’s film opens as if it were an episode of the Hitchcock’s short-lived television series, Alfred Hitchcock Presents. On a Wisconsin farm, Hitchcock witnesses the death of a man at the hands of Ed Gein (Michael Wincott). After delivering his signature, “Good Evening,” Hitchcock introduces us to Gein, a real-life body snatcher and serial killer whose grisly work influenced the cinematic slashers like Leatherface from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Buffalo Bill from The Silence of the Lambs, and, of course, Norman Bates from Psycho.
After this humorous, rather charming opening, the story of Psycho begins at the premiere of Hitchcock’s 1959 film, North By Northwest. While the director is no doubt enjoying the critical and financial success of his latest picture, he is struggling to find his next project – that is, until he stumbles across Robert Bloch’s latest novel, Psycho.
Hitchcock immediately decides that this grisly tale of murder and madness will be his next project, but he meets resistance from all corners, including his wife and frequent (uncredited) collaborator Alma Reville. With the help of his agent Lew Wasserman (Michael Stuhlbarg), Hitchcock decides to fund the movie himself if Paramount will distribute the picture. Soon, we are introduced to cinematic recreations of screenwriter Joe Stefano (Ralph Macchio), Anthony Perkins (a spot-on James D’Arcy), Janet Leigh (Scarlett Johansson), and Vera Miles (Jessica Biel).
The rest, of course, is film history. Unfortunately, Gervasi and screenwriter John J. McLaughlin take several liberties with historical fact and present a simplified, melodramatic summary of the events that differs wildly from what actually took place.
Perhaps more than any other film director in the history of the medium, Hitchcock’s career has inspired hundreds of documentaries and biographies on the famed filmmaker – so I’m left completely baffled how Gervasi’s film could inaccurately portray (or simply choose to ignore) the truth behind the making of Psycho. For instance, while Paramount distributed Psycho – the film was shot on set at Universal Studios. The film, however, has Paramount’s President Barney Balaban visiting the Paramount lot demanding to see footage of Hitch’s film.
The film pursues this idea that Alfred and Alma’s marriage was a strained one, and that it took collaborating on Psycho to essentially renew their vows. Gervasi and McLaughlin seemingly fabricate a flimsy, rather boring romance between Alma and fellow screenwriter Whitfield Cook (Danny Huston). Here, Cook is seen as a talentless sleazeball, begging Alma to give Hitch his latest screenplay to read. Not once does the movie mention that Cook wrote Hitchcock’s classic film, Strangers on a Train.
As for the performances, Hopkins is more of a superficial caricature of Hitchcock – there are fleeting moments when the talented actor channels the director, but for the most part his performance is buried under pounds of prosthetics and hours of time in the makeup chair. Mirren delivers a striking, commanding portrayal, but is actually miscast as the diminutive, mousey Alma.
D’Arcy and Johansson are fantastic in their roles, but unfortunately their screen time is limited as Hitchcock has imaginary psychiatrist sessions with Ed Gein and drills peepholes into the walls of his actresses’ dressing rooms. Toni Collette (as Hitch’s assistant Peggy Robertson) and Biel round out a solid ensemble stuck in a so-so movie.
Hitchcock is a charming, humorous farce that decides early on it would rather entertain the audience than inform it. In all honesty, I think the more interesting behind-the-scenes Hollywood story would be how exactly Sacha Gervasi got to the director’s chair on this picture. It’s rather peculiar that a filmmaker who only made his debut four years ago with the 2008 documentary Anvil: The Story of Anvil is put in charge of telling one of film history’s most important stories.
Instead of watching Hitchcock, I would highly recommend purchasing Psycho: 50th Anniversary Edition on Blu-Ray, which includes a fantastic feature-length documentary on the making of the film with insight from Leigh, Robertson, Stefano, and everyone involved in the film’s production. Sure, you won’t see the buxom Scarlett Johansson in the shower, but hey, that’s what the Internet is for!