Synopsis: A love story between influential filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock and wife Alma Reville during the filming of Psycho in 1959.
Stars: Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Scarlett Johansson, Danny Huston, Toni Collette, Jessica Biel, Michael Stuhlbarg, James D’Arcy, Michael Wincott, Richard Portnow, Kurtwood Smith
Director: Sacha Gervasi
Running Length: 98 minutes
Trailer Review: Here
TMMM Score: (5.5/10)
Review: After a disastrous first screening of Psycho, Alfred Hitchcock’s agent (Stuhlbarg) suggests “Maybe we should cut it down and release it as a two-part special for television”. It was at that point in this breezey but hollow biopic of the Master of Suspense that I thought what a great suggestion that is that the filmmakers should have taken to heart. Instead of giving us a film that feels like a full meal, we are served appetizers that don’t totally cure our hunger.
That’s not to say Hitchcock (adapted by John McLaughlin from Stephen Rebello’s biography “Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho”) doesn’t have its saving graces because it does acquit itself somewhat with several fine performances and a dishy behind the scenes vibe that movie buffs will enjoy. On the other hand, I left the film feeling like I watched a movie made up of anecdotes rather than a fully formed idea. The synopsis indicates it’s a love story between Hitchcock and wife Alma Reville…OK…but then it veers off into a psychoanalysis of Hitchcock and his hang-ups on blonde bombshells….OK…yet it turns again to a behind-the-scenes look at the making of Psycho…OK…or is it really about the greater price of fame and notoriety both Hitchcock and Alma encountered? All interesting ideas for a picture on their own but somehow they don’t work when layered on top of each other.
Being the movie buff I am, I quite enjoyed peeking into how Hitchcock discovered Psycho and against all odds made one of the classic pictures in American cinema. Recreating the experience of filming the movie was interesting to watch unfold…as were the performances of D’Arcy (Cloud Atlas) as Anthony Perkins and Scarlett Johansson (Marvel’s The Avengers) as Janet Leigh. Both actors steer clear of outright imitations and instead deliver convincing performances that really do remind you of these stars. Johansson in particular doesn’t resemble Janet Leigh but I’ll be darned if I didn’t do a few double takes when hearing her speak in Leigh’s voice and nail her softly nuanced facial expressions. Biel (Total Recall, The Tall Man) too doesn’t remind me of Vera Miles but the actress is nicely restrained in her brief scenes.
Supporting actors get the job done, I s’pose but I’d love it if Huston could get out from under these boorish types of characters. Collette is delightful as always and Wincott is effectively creepy acting as a bizarre muse to Hitchcock in the guise of an imagined Ed Gein.
In promotional materials and trailers, Hopkins gave off the proper vibe as the famous director of the title. Still…something about seeing the full performance didn’t ring true if I’m really being honest. The dimensions are all correct and if you close your eyes the voice is almost there…but it was close but no cigar for me. With the aid of a portly fat suit, Hopkins fills the room with his presence…but his wildly inconsistent hair and facial make-up spoil it all and you may find yourself wondering why half his face is one color and the other half is another. While not a big budget film, I think more attention to the make-up detail would have helped Hopkins come to a more fully realized performance. I’ll add that while the voice was going in the right direction…something about his slow delivery suggested the man was mid-stroke.
That leaves us with Mirren who simply towers above all else in the film. As inconsistent as the film may be, it’s absolutely saved by her contributions as Hitch’s burdened wife. Clearly his biggest supporter and best confidant, she never got the recognition she deserved and many credit her influence as the true genius behind the man. Mirren understands this and never plays the role as so put-upon you couldn’t understand why she’s sticking around. This is a woman who knows that with every film her husband will obsess over details and fret about success…and she takes it all in and helps him through. The film is most successful when Mirren is taking control of whatever situation needs to be leveled off. It probably helps that since Alma isn’t a familiar Hollywood figure, Mirren’s performance isn’t held under the same magnifying glass that Hopkins is.
Director Gervasi achieves a nicely period looking film that does feel like it was meant for the small screen due in no part to its trim running time. Had this been released on television (like the recent HBO Hitchcock piece, The Girl) I think it would have been a bit easier to forgive some of the film’s faults. Like 2011’s My Week with Marilyn and The Iron Lady, this is an uneven film with a powerful female performance at the center. Everything else just feels like window dressing.