It is with a bit of a playful attitude that Anthony Hopkins, arguably one of our greatest living actors today, takes on the role of one of our greatest directors of all time. Sometimes the fantasy is better left a lie and that is the main fear I had in walking into a film about Alfred Hitchcock, especially during the making of his most famous of films. As a person who not only enjoys watching films, but someone who always aspired to make films Hitchcock is of course a name that is immediately regarded as the best of the best and his films, whether you have seen them or not, are classics no matter what. To my shame, I have not watched all of Hitchcock's catalogue but I guess the only one that matters in speaking on this film is Psycho, and I have seen Psycho. What I have not yet seen is the other film that came out late last year about the famous director. The HBO film The Girl is about what comes after this chapter of Hitch's life yet seems to be more worthy of the Oscar talk that Hitchcock is receiving for Helen Mirren's work. That film stars Toby Jones (he has a knack for making autobiographical films at the same time as others, see Infamous) and focuses on the making of The Birds and Marnie, both of which starred Tippie Hedren and The Girl centers around the directors relationship with her and his need to impress and connect with his leading ladies. This trait is naturally a large part of Hitchcock as well and forms the backbone of the script that deals with Hitchcock's relationship with his wife, Alma (Mirren). Though Hitchcock is not the overly serious, Oscar contender many likely expected it to be it is still a fun watch with great actors and an easily engaging and interesting story for any fan of film.

Janet Leigh (Scarlett Johansson), Alfred Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins), and Alma Hitchcock (Helen Mirren)
celebrate the casting of Mrs. Leigh in Psycho.
Hopkins as Hitchcock narrates his own tale here, opening with a wonderful bit of insight that explains the inspiration for the original novel, Psycho. I was actually unaware the same guy that inspired The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was the same that inspired Norman Bates, but it wasn't hard to believe. Ed Gein after all was a very sick man and he makes a bit of a cameo appearance here in order to fuel the inner workings of Hitchcock's brain during the making of his seminal work. This quick exposition in terms of Gein also affords us the immediate introduction to the tone of the film. It is light, playful and is not actually so much about the making of Psycho as it is about the challenges of being married to Alfred Hitchcock. That is not to say it is a full-on romantic comedy, but it skews much closer to that genre than say the straight laced, self-serious drama of most biographical works that Hollywood produces around Oscar time each year. These types of films are easy to highly anticipate though. They offer a glimpse behind the curtain, a look at how much someone so famous, so untouchable to the public eye is exactly like us. The thing about the real Hitchcock though is that he himself was very accessible, very eager to put himself out there and market his own films. That is very much the attitude the film has about itself as well and though some may find this aspect a little disappointing it came off as rather refreshing even if it wasn't exactly what I was hoping it to be.

The main detractor from the film though, despite its ability to turn the tone on its head, is the fact it ends up spending more time away from the set of Psycho then I was also hoping for. As a film buff I was hoping to see the inner workings of one of the most famous films of all time, the ins and outs of the day to day, the set ups for certain shots and the filming of specific scenes. Rather, we get a look at the quick descent of Hitch into his own personal demons and how those come out on the set in certain parts. We see him searching for and convincing people about Psycho more than we do him actually making it. What makes up for most of this unevenness the script possesses are the performances. Though Hopkins version of Hitchcock is a more impending figure than he actually was in real life and the voice isn't really similar at all, he does seem to capture the actual essence of a man obsessed with his work and unable to leave the world he has made for himself. The real anchor here though is in seeing Hitch's wife Alma become what many outside of his legend never knew her to be. As much as he was invested in and a part of creating his works she was equally with him in the process; re-writing scripts, taking on directing duties and lending the idea that would make the film such a true shocker beyond the inherent scares the story already created. Mirren does her best not to overcome Hopkins in terms of coming to grips with the reality of her character much like the real Alma probably did with her husbanding concerning reality.

From Left: Vera Miles (Jessica Biel) joins Janet Leigh and Anthony Perkins (James D'Arcy) on set
for the vow of secrecy before principal photography begins.
The remainder of the cast is not given nearly as much to do. The talents of Michael Stuhlbarg, Toni Colette, James D'Arcy, and Jessica Biel seem especially wasted here but it was likely with the opportunity of working on a film about such an iconic character related to the film industry as well as with both Hopkins and Mirren that these actors jumped at the chance. Given a bit more room to spread her wings is Scarlett Johansson as Janet Leigh. Though I have seen the actual Leigh only in her role as Marion Crane and the small part of Touch of Evil that I've seen yet it feels inherently true to who Mrs. Leigh was as a person and how well she handled herself professionally. The way in which she deals with her directors peculiar methods and his attempts to draw them closer are professional yet they also display an understanding that she is becoming a Hitchcock leading lady and is fully aware of the trappings that come along with that position. Many forget that before Johansson became a more streamlined Hollywood leading lady she was in fact an indie darling. To gain that type of reputation requires true acting chops and Johansson returns to a form where she is able to use those chops and show how much talent she truly has in bringing humanity to a person we all saw more as a role in a movie than a human being. Mirren will get the majority of the praise here for her wonderfully sharp performance as Alma and deservedly so, but Johansson truly deserves equal that amount. It would have been lovely to see D'Arcy be given more time to develop Anthony Perkins, much less his interpretation of Norman Bates and how that role was fleshed out but Hitchcock the film is more interested in telling the story of Hitchcock's troubled marriage than it is his troubled production. For that, the film is simply an entertaining escape rather than an illuminating experience.


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