© 2012 Ray Wong

How could director Sasha Gervasi (Anvil: The Story of Anvil) do a sort-of biopic about one of the most iconic directors of all times? Ask Oscar-winning actor Sir Anthony Hopkins to play Alfred Hitchcock, of course.

Hitchcock in a way is less of a biopic but more of a behind-the-scene movie about the making of Hitchcock's seminal horror film, Psycho. On the keel of the success of North by Northwest, Alfred Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins) is deemed too old to repeat that success. Indignant of that notion (he is, after all, only 60 years old) and defiant of his perceived limitation, Hitchcock is determined to shock the world when he comes across the novel Psycho. The director is fascinated by the subject matter, even as his wife Alma (Helen Mirren) and financial backers deem it too violent and grotesque. Instead, Hitchcock decides to put his own money into making the movie, by mortgaging his estate.

Hitchcock hires blond bombshell Janet Leigh (Scarlett Johansson) as the leading lady and a relative unknown Anthony Perkins (James D'Arcy) as the leading man in his new film. He also includes Vera Miles (Jessica Biel), with whom Hitchcock has a complicated history, to play a role. The eccentric director is under a lot of stress, even with the support of his loyal agent Lew Wasserman (Michael Stuhlbarg), assistant Peggy (Toni Collette) and of course devoted wife and creative partner.

In fact, Hitchcock is so wrapped up in his film and personal drama -- and his strange obsession with his leading ladies -- that he ignores Alma. Frustrated with the lack of affection and attention, Alma seeks solace in a new friend, dashing writer Whitield Cook (Danny Huston). Alma and Whitfield are working on Whitfield's new screenplay, but Hitchcock suspects they are having an affair. When Hitchcock confronts his wife, she unleashes her pent-up resentment and threatens to upset their rocky marriage.

Sir Anthony Hopkins (Thor) goes under extensive make-up and dons a full-body fat suit to look like Hitchcock. In a way, he doesn't really look like the iconic director, but Hopkins does wonder with his voice and body language to convey the essence of one of the most recognizable figures in movie history. Helen Mirren (Arthur) looks nothing like the real Alma Reville, but Mirren gives Alma a distinct voice and personality and fire.

Scarlett Johansson (The Avengers) does her best portraying Janet Leigh and by and large she's captured Leigh's effervescent personality. Toni Collette (Mental) is sharp as Peggy, Hitchcock's right-hand woman who has to navigate through the men's world of Hollywood. Michael Stuhlbarg (Lincoln) is earnest as super agent Wasserman, and Danny Huston (Stolen) is savvy as Alma's potential love interest, and Biel (Total Recall) is delightful as Ms. Vera Miles. But James D'Arcy (Cloud Atlas) bears an uncanny resemblance of Anthony Perkins in looks and mannerism that it is rather unnerving.

Written by John J. McLaughlin (Black Swan), the screenplay uses the making of Psycho as a backdrop for the personal drama between Hitchcock and Alma. In a way, it really is a love story between the famed director and his lesser-known wife. In every way, Alma is Hitchcock's equal partner in both his personal and professional life, but so little is known about Alma Reville that McLaughlin has to do a lot of research. Even though it is personal in nature, the screenplay is light and breezy in tone, and pays great homage to the men and women who made Psycho a reality.

Oscar-winning documentary-maker Sasha Gervasi ventures into scripted drama and does an adequate job. His direction is straightforward and no-frill. The camera work and color palettes may seem bland at times, but Gervasi uses his documentary skills well when re-creating the sets of Psycho. There is somewhat surrealism watching these famous actors playing other famous actors making a famous movie.

Unfortunately, Hitchcock is too lightweight and comical to be a serious contender in this upcoming award season, even though the cast, Hopkins and Mirren in particular, has given commendable performances. Still, the movie is a delight, and it's entertaining. It gives us a bit more insight into Hitchcock's life, especially with regard to his wife, and it is fun to watch. I think Alfred Hitchcock himself would have approved.

Stars: Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Scarlett Johansson, Danny Huston, Toni Collette, Michael Stuhlbarg, Jessica Biel, James D'Arcy
Director: Sasha Gervasi
Writers: John J. McLaughlin (based on book by Stephen Rebello)
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
MPAA Rating:  PG-13 for some violent images, sexual content and thematic material
Running Time: 98 minutes 


Script - 7
Performance - 8
Direction - 7
Cinematography - 7
Music/Sound - 7
Editing - 7
Production - 8

Total - 7.3 out of 10.0 

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