The title of this so-called biopic is somewhat misleading, as Sacha Gervasi’s take on the great British filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock is more a study of a particular section of his life, as we delve into his marriage with wife Alma Reville amidst the making of his seminal feature Psycho.
Such an approach certainly proves to be less overbearing as it allows the audience a chance to learn a lot about a short period of his life, rather than learning very little about the whole thing.
Anthony Hopkins takes on the role of Hitchcock, who is struggling to find the funding for his latest, and rather controversial, project Psycho. Despite his untarnished reputation in Hollywood, Hitchcock is finding it difficult to persuade Paramount to support his movie, regardless of his agent’s (Michael Stuhlbarg) best efforts. However when he and his wife Alma (Helen Mirren) decide to fund the picture themselves, they are given the green light.
Casting Anthony Perkins (James D’Arcy) and Janet Leigh (Scarlett Johansson) as his two leads, they begin shooting Hitchcock’s defining horror masterpiece, whilst back at home there are issues to resolve between the director and his long-suffering wife, as the meticulous filmmaker’s obsession with his leading ladies is starting to wear down Alma – who has an admirer of her own in the form of screenwriter Whitfield Cook (Danny Huston).
Gervasi does an intelligent job of balancing between Hitchcock’s relationship with Alma, and the making of Psycho, as the emphasis is shared equally and sufficiently throughout. The lead performances from Hopkins and Mirren are very impressive also, despite the former not fully resembling Hitchcock. However it doesn’t really matter much, as we’re asked for a suspension of disbelief and the character Hopkins portrays is compelling and consistent, and whether he resembles Hitchcock physically or not becomes almost irrelevant. We believe in him, and that’s what matters.
Talking of realism, you do get a feeling this isn’t an entirely factually correct production and Gervasi certainly uses up all nine lives of his artistic licence, but so what – it works as a movie and that’s the most important thing – just ask Alfred, he’d testify to that for sure. Gervasi presents the title in a very bright visual way too with emphatic colours, all very sharp and smooth looking. By doing this it adds a touch of surrealism to proceedings which allows for the director to be cinematic and somewhat fanciful.
Gervasi – whose only other feature is the brilliant documentary Anvil: The Story of Anvil, has certainly taken pointers from filmmakers that have come before him, and most noticeably, Hitchcock himself, particularly evident in the voyeuristic pursuing of Alma, a famed Hitchcockian technique. Gervasi sexualises Mirren too as his leading lady, and in a sense within this film she is effectively playing the typical Hitchcock muse. Which, of course, she truly is. However what isn’t so Hitchcockian, is how short the scenes are. There are few lingering takes within this movie, as though it’s been cut in a hurry, with a plethora of short winded sequences. Take Rope, for example, that’s just one long bloody scene. Also, various scenes seem to end on a predictably witty quip, causing it to look like a film that seems to have been made with the trailer in mind.
Hitchcock remains an enjoyable film, and although ardent fans of the great filmmaker’s work will be sure to scrutinise this with a fine-tooth comb, you have to take this for what it is: as a mainstream approach on Hitchcock’s life, with a similar tone and atmosphere to My Week With Marilyn, epitomised by the choice of film they’re predominately focusing on, as Psycho was his biggest commercial success. A film about Hitchcock this may be, but not necessarily a film for Hitchcock fans.