Alfred Hitchcock is far and away my favourite director. The man made an obscenely large number of brilliant films, and even his lesser works boast moments of cinematic genius. Despite his extraordinary success, however, the man still had trouble getting films made. The most well known of these ordeals was his attempts at bringing Psycho to the screen, which is what Sacha Gervasi’s film is concerned with.
Flush from his success with North By Northwest, Hitch (Anthony Hopkins) wants to make a different movie, something that isn’t ‘a man wrongfully accused trying to clear his name’. He comes across Robert Bloch’s book, Psycho, which in turn took inspiration from the real life murders committed by serial killer Ed Gein, and decides that this will be his next picture. No one thinks this is a good idea, not even his wife Alma Reville (Helen Mirren). A rift has already begun to form in their marriage, and Hitch’s obsessions begin to clash with his paranoia as work on the film begins.
Surprisingly, Hitchcock isn’t as straight-faced as most biopics. The film is injected with a sense of silliness that many will recognise from the man’s appearances in trailers for his own movies. (If you don’t know what I mean, check out the trailer for Marnie, in which he makes fun of some of the most serious moments in his own film.) Thus, Hitchcock occasionally addresses us, the audience, directly, and the film features numerous sequences that present his creative processes as a kind of film within a film.
It will astonish no one to learn that Hopkins is fantastic in the central role. Crucially, he also undergoes quite a transformation in order to match Hitchcock’s larger than life appearance. His outrageous vocal delivery takes a while to get used to, but it is spot on when compared with the recordings of the director that have survived. Mirren is good in the supporting role, whilst Toni Collette is fantastic as Peggy Robertson, Hitch’s assistant. Scarlett Johansson is radiant as Janet Leigh, one of the few actresses who managed to relate to the great director as an equal. The versatile Jessica Biel plays Vera Miles with aplomb, one of many actresses that had fallen from grace with Hitch. Michael Wincott also makes an appearance as well, playing a bad guy yet again, none other than Ed Gein himself.
The film isn’t without its flaws. Several of the scenes come off as particularly awkward – one such moment unfortunately coming right towards the end – and the film is so concerned about Hitch’s personal life that we don’t get to see him working much of his magic on the film set. Crucially, the film is pitched as an underdog story, and whilst the man did indeed face battles with studios and censors, its hard to believe that this really is a story of the ‘little guy achieving greatness in the face of adversity’, even if the likes of Vertigo weren’t appreciated until years later.
For Hitchcock buffs such as myself, there’s a lot to like about this feature. The man’s black sense of humour is front and centre, and the film takes a lot of risks. It mightn’t be the kind of dull-as-dishwater biopic that frequently gets made, but it’s also less than perfect.Rating: