Alfred Hitchcock’s most famous film is about a deeply flawed relationship between a man and his mother. “Hitchcock” is also a story about a flawed relationship: that between the director and his wife.
In Sacha Gervasi’s “Hitchcock,” the making of “Psycho” plays in the background as we watch the interplay between its director (played by Anthony Hopkins) and his long-suffering wife Alma (Hellen Mirren). Hitchcock’s new film is breaking new ground in sordid subject matter, and it’s also the latest entry in the director’s quest to find his ultimate “mystery blonde.”
This time around, it’s Janet Leigh (played by Scarlett Johansson); but that’s only because Grace Kelly became a princess. “Hitch,” the nickname he insists on from all his favored stars, flirts and dotes on his leading ladies obsessively, often in the presence and to the repulsion of his wife.
But Alma is no wallflower. She is quite accomplished in the film business herself, and her own temptation comes in the form of Whitfield Cook (Danny Huston), a writer Hitch considers inferior, but who provides Alma with a fulfilling project she can work on outside of her husband’s shadow.
As we navigate the twists and turns of Hitchcock’s marriage, we witness the creation of one of the most frightening films ever made. Despite his already dark reputation, Paramount executives felt like Hitch finally had gone too far when he decided to tell a story that involved murder, voyeurism and cross-dressing. It doesn’t help that the source material is a true story. In his obsession, Hitch consults with the real-life culprit — Wisconsin farmer Ed Gein — in his dreams.
Watching Hitchcock pitch his story to the press and bicker with executives and censors is amusing and sobering at the same time, considering today’s anything-goes attitude towards film content. And while “Hitchcock” doesn’t contain much in the way of lewd or violent content, there are enough spoken references and suggestions throughout the film to make it inappropriate for the kids.
On the other hand, watching “Hitchcock” really makes you want to re-watch “Psycho.” Gervasi plays out the real-life plot as a reflection of the suspenseful world Hitchcock created on film time after time for decades on end. Half the time you’re expecting Hitch to pull out a butcher knife and go after Alma himself.
Anthony Hopkins’ portrayal is a lot of fun to watch (especially in a scene late in the film), and it's clearly timed to draw end-of-the-year Oscar attention. But at times the character itself is so comic that it is hard to lose Hopkins in the role, and the real depth comes from Helen Mirren’s portrayal of Alma. James D’Arcy is also effective as Anthony Perkins, who Hitchcock cast as the celluloid version of Gein.
Of course, if anyone winds up winning an Oscar for their work on this film, it will be a bittersweet pill. For all his fame and success, Hitchcock never won a statue himself.
“Hitchcock” is rated PG-13 for suggestive dialogue and content, some religious profanity, and (mostly implied) images of violence.
Sexuality: Suggestive dialogue is peppered throughout the film, and there are multiple scenes with half-dressed characters kissing (though there is no nudity). The filming of “Psycho’s” infamous “shower scene” is portrayed quite modestly.
Violence: Most of the violence in the film is suggested or implied, though a quick flash of a crime scene photo and a few of Hitchcock’s dream sequences with the real-life murderer might be too grisly for children.
Language: Scattered religious profanities.
Joshua Terry is a freelance writer and photojournalist who also teaches English composition at Salt Lake Community College. You can see more of his work at www.woundedmosquito.com.