We may rejoice that film has now been around long enough for one of the greatest contemporary actors to play one of the greatest past directors in a movie about making a movie. Well, ostensibly, anyway. While the plot of Hitchcock may center around the making of Psycho, every meaningful aspect of the film tells us about the romance between Alfred Hitchcock and his wife, Alma Reville.
As the film begins, Alfred Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins) seeks a new project to work on and settles on Psycho after reading the book of the same name, as he’s become quite taken with the grisly work. So taken, in fact, that he begins to have dream sequences of a sort with Ed Gein, the Wisconsinite inspiration for Norman Bates. These sequences, along with some Hitchcock-ian breaking of the fourth wall, keep the movie a little more lively and interesting than the average biopic, in case you weren’t already mesmerized by the interaction between Hitchcock and Alma (Helen Mirren) on screen.
Both Hopkins and Mirren manage to make their characters feel like very real people; their motivations are extremely relatable and normal, and you don’t really think of the as Hopkins or Mirren during the movie, which is impressive given how famous and recognizable they are. Hopkins initially jumps off the screen at you, but the prosthetics he wears and the accent he affects - though it sometimes dips into Winston Churchill rather than Alfred Hitchcock - present a believable enough facade that you lose yourself in his struggle to make Psycho while also saving his relationship with Alma. Mirren, for her part, manages to make Alma a strong woman who is used to dealing with a difficult man but might be nearing her breaking point. You end up rooting for both of them.
The two main characters are so absorbing that the rest of the brilliant cast comes almost as an afterthought. Scarlett Johansson plays Janet Leigh, an intoxicating mix of strength, sexiness, and confidence; Hitchcock is something of a scoundrel, but we never fear that Leigh will taken advantage of in any way, due almost entirely to Johansson’s portrayal. Oh, also Jessica Biel shows up as arguably the sixth most important character in the film (Danny Huston and Toni Collette both have larger, more important parts) and does a great job. Director Sacha Gervasi truly had an embarrassment of acting riches to work with.
The movie is also excellently paced - a smooth 98 minutes - with a very good script chock-full of witty rejoinders: After Hitchcock finally tells Alma that she’s the most beautiful “Hitchcock blonde" and she says that she’s been waiting 30 years to hear him say that, he replies “And that, my dear, is why they call me the master of suspense.”
Much like Lincoln, the other holiday season biopic likely to garner a multitude of Oscar nominations, Hitchcock makes the excellent decision to focus on a small period of the subject’s life, rather than subject an audience to a plodding personal history of the figure in question. One wishes more films (cough J. Edgar cough) would make the same choice.
The movie is excellent and I would be surprised if Hitchcock did not end up with Oscar nods for Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Actor (Hopkins), Best Actress (Mirren), and possibly Best Supporting Actress (Johansson). One hopes, if only for the sake of irony, that Gervasi is nominated for Best Director and wins; Hitchcock was nominated five times himself with nothing to show for it.
"Hitchcock" opens November 23, 2012 and is rated PG13. Drama. Directed by Sacha Gervasi. Written by John J. McLaughlin, Stephen Rebello. Starring Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Jessica Biel, Scarlett Johansson.