Directed By: Sacha Gervasi
Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Scarlett Johansson
Tag line: "Behind every Psycho is a great woman"
Trivia: Anthony Hopkins actually met Alfred Hitchcock when he was younger. Hopkins was accompanied by his agent who introduced him to Hitchcock in a restaurant
Fresh off the success of North by Northwest, renowned director Alfred Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins) starts searching for his next project. Looking for something different, he decides to adapt Robert Bloch’s novel, Psycho, a tale of horror loosely based on the life of serial killer Ed Gein (Michael Wincott). Still reeling from the box-office failure of Vertigo a few years earlier, Paramount refuses to finance such a risky film. What’s more, the MPAA, under the guidance of Geoffrey Shurlock (Kurtwood Smith), has hinted that, due to the subject matter, it won’t issue Psycho its seal of approval. Undaunted, Hitchcock, with the support of his wife Alma (Helen Mirren), agrees to pay for the movie himself. After casting Janet Leigh (Scarlett Johansson) and Anthony Perkins (James D’Arcy) as his two leads, Hitchcock begins production on Psycho, knowing full well that if the movie fails, he’ll end up in the poor house. To add to his worries, he suspects Alma is having an affair with family friend Whitfield Cook (Danny Huston). Fueled by his jealousy and fear, Hitchcock pours everything he has into Psycho, but the question remains: how will audiences react to it?
From its very first scene, Hitchcock had me smiling ear to ear. We open in 1944, with Ed Gein working in a field alongside his brother Henry (Frank Collison). Henry announces he’s planning to leave home, to which Ed responds by beating him to death with a shovel. At that point, the camera pans slightly to the right. Standing there, looking straight ahead, is Hitchcock, who, after taking a sip from a cup of tea, says “Brother has been killing brother since Cain and Abel, yet even I didn’t see that coming. I was as blindsided as poor old Henry down there”. The entire sequence plays like an homage to those great trailers Hitchcock used to churn out, where he would talk to the audience about his upcoming picture. Hitchcock even tackles some of the director’s supposed idiosyncrasies, including his penchant for beautiful blondes (at the premiere of North by Northwest, while being questioned by the press, Hitchcock walks over to a pretty young woman seeking an autograph, asking her if she has any questions for him. Blushing, she smiles and says no. “Pity”, he replies).
I admit I had some reservations when I heard Anthony Hopkins had been cast as the lead in Hitchcock. But at the same time, I couldn’t think of a better actor for the part. Sure, he’s impersonating Hitchcock to a degree, yet his performance is so much more than that, capturing the director’s personality (at least how I’ve always pictured him) to a T. Helen Mirren is predictably excellent as Alma, the occasionally put-upon wife of a genius. I couldn’t help but laugh at the scene when Hitchcock hands her Bloch’s book, and, after having her read the shower scene, she says, quite sarcastically, “Charming. Doris Day should do it as a musical”. Alma tells her husband the book is “low-budget, horror movie claptrap”, yet supports him completely in his decision to turn it into a film, even when it threatens their livelihood. The real Alma Reville always stayed in the background, the “woman behind the man”, so to speak, and to see her portrayed with such charisma on-screen was truly a treat. The remainder of the cast is also strong, especially James D’Arcy as Anthony Perkins, and, in a small role, Michael Wincott as Ed Gein (the scenes where Hitchcock imagines himself talking with the serial killer bring a touch of the macabre to the picture, something the real Hitchcock would certainly have enjoyed).
But it's Hitchcock’s creative process I find most intriguing, from his arranging to buy up every copy of Bloch’s book in order to protect its secrets to meticulously shooting the famous shower sequence. From start to finish, Hitchcock is a behind-the-scenes look at the making of a classic motion picture, and for a fan of the director’s, that alone makes it cinematic gold.