Picking up where the BBC’s The Girl left off, Sacha Gervasi’s Hitchcock promised to be an inside look at the making of the master of suspense’s seminal picture, Psycho. Now whilst it features an all star cast including Anthony Hopkins at the Hitch, Helen Mirren as his long loving wife, Alma and Scarlett Johansson as Janet Leigh (the star of Psycho) it doesn’t quite uphold it’s promise to be the cinephile’s look at the trials and tribulations behind making one of the best known and loved thrillers of all time. Instead, it’s a slightly bubblegum look at what could have happened, postulating on the ups and downs of Hitch’s marriage as well as his relationship with his stars. Whilst The Girl made him out to be a voyeuristic pervert, constantly torturing the blonde bombshells that he was famous for casting, Hitchcock supposes him to be a somewhat jovial British man who had broken America, had some quite surreal quirks but all round got the work done – pretty much thanks to his wife, Alma.
Now this doesn’t mean that Hitchcock wasn’t an enjoyable film – far from it actually, but rather it isn’t the biopic that film fans across the land were expecting – truly delving deep under the layers of Hitch and trying to work out what made him tick. The film is based upon the book, Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho by Stephen Rebello, which detailed the aspects behind making the film from the acquisition of the original novel by Robert Bloch to remortgaging his house, dealing with this new actress, Janet Leigh and finally, getting the film into the cinemas making sure both himself and the censorship authorities were happy with the levels of violence and suspense. Whilst, I haven’t read the book, I am sure from what I have learnt that it is mostly based upon fact, but whatever from the book made it’s way into the film, seems somewhat irrelevant now because ultimately it feels like a fairytale.
What Hitchcock has hugely in it’s advantage is the stunning array of acting talent; ranging from Anthony Hopkins who dons a fat suit to play the director to Helen Mirren playing Alma Reville. Hopkins has masterfully become Hitch in such a way, which virtually renders him unrecognisable; he walks, talks and moves in a way that I have only seen from the real Hitch himself on YouTube videos. It’s odd to believe that over 20 years ago, this same actor played Hannibal Lecter. The advertising for the film has been very clever to mimic the original images of Hitch, viewed from side on to help the audience reminisce over the director and bring back those memories from his outstanding career. What really drives this film though, is the award nominated performance by Helen Mirren who manages to ground the film in some sort of emotional reality. Whilst the rest of the film is somewhat coated in easy to understand chunks, Mirren outshines the rest of the cast by really portraying a woman stuck in the middle of wanting to lead her own life and wanting to stand by (and behind) her husband. Whilst, she ultimately wants to make a name for herself (and continued to, whilst working with her husband), she finds herself working closely with Whitfield Cook (Danny Huston) who needs help on his own screenplay; the two grow close and Cook does make some advances but Alma isn’t interested – there is only one man for her in her life.
The other star of the film is Scarlett Johansson who takes on the enormous weight of portraying Janet Leigh, who has been immortalised in the shower murder scene forever in film history. Leigh died in 2004 and ultimately never managed to reach the heights of Psycho again in the career (a big statement I know) and so therefore it was down to Johansson to ultimately make sure that she didn’t take away from the star’s persona. She does a good job, nothing run away but nice to watch. She smiles and talks to Mr Hitchcock, she gives off an air of innocence and naiveté, which fits with the sugar coating of the film. There are moments when you think the they are going to explore the slightly twisted side of the stars relationship with her director, but unlike The Girl, it is never more than a little bit of banter and a slight light spanking (mind the pun).
All innuendo aside, the sequence in which Hitch becomes slightly unhinged whilst filming the shower scene and comes at Leigh with the knife himself is quite masterful. It was certainly on my mind throughout the film as to how they were going to combat such an important sequence and whether they were going to bother showing it all – but at this point in the film, things have become a little too much for Hitch. The ghost of Ed Gein, the serial killer upon which Psycho is based has been haunting him, as he tries to get inside the mind of a killer. His arguments with Alma have become difficult to live through, both about the film and regarding her relationship with Whitfield and ultimately he doesn’t know if he is ever going to get his picture finished let alone through the censorship boards onto the screen and delivered to the audiences. Whilst he is watching the scene happen, he doesn’t believe enough rage is being expressed and instead takes the knife and acts it out himself, scaring Leigh in the process. Finally he is letting all the anger that has been building up and come out in this integral scene of his own film and of Hitchcock itself.
Now, whilst the film does tell the story of the making of the film; it did seem to sweep through the last twenty minutes of the film very quickly. On completion, Psycho does not make the censors happy and Hitch has gotten himself stuck in a rut. But Super Alma comes to the rescue, and in a very few short sequences she takes control, gets back to work with her husband, they come up with an ingenious way to get the audience into the cinema and it’s a big success. Saying all this, I did really enjoy the dynamic between Hopkins and Mirren as the sparring husband and wife, until the end where they come together and the film really does prove that behind every grand man is an even better woman; this certainly seems in the case with Alfred and Alma.
As for the direction itself, Gervasi has done a nice job of making the film studio where they are filming Psycho into a realm of another world; allowing his camera to explore and illustrate to the audience rather than make any judgements on Hitch as The Girl did. Hitchcock doesn’t break any dramatic truths, but it does attempt to build some Hitchcock like suspense in the ways in which the master really did think; it’s interesting enough and if anything is another reason to admire Mirren’s acting.