Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Scarlett Johansson
Directed by Sacha Gervassi
When we all heard that Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren were making a biopic of legendary director Alfred Hitchcock, I think we all assumed it would be a winner. The big problem is, the filmmakers seemed to have just assumed it, too.
The film focuses on the director starting with the release of North by Northwest and covers the making of his most controversial film: Psycho. And it wasn't only controversial because of its content. It may seem strange in a time where Psycho is his best known film, but for a filmmaker as revered as he was to make a gritty slasher about a transvestite serial killer felt a bit like if it were announced that Christopher Nolan were directing a remake of Showgirls. It was so strange the plan was enough to throw his entire reputation into question. Alfred Hitchcock wound up having to finance the entire $800,000+ motion picture by himself, risking complete personal and professional ruin if it failed.
That would have been enough of a good story, but the film primarily focuses on his relationship with his wife and co-producer Alma Reville (Mirren). Their relationship…isn't much of a relationship. They sleep in separate beds, casually put each other down, and regularly have emotional affairs with others. For Hitchcock, it's his stalker-esque relationship with many attractive leading ladies. For her, it's a friendship with writer Whitfield Cook (Danny Huston).
The film making aspect of the whole thing is the best of the film, but it's also in the background for most of it, and what we see is woefully shallow. Psycho needs a lead actress, so we get a part with Scarlet Johansson as Janet Leigh. We need an actor for Norman Bates, so we get a part with James D'arcy as Anthony Perkins. Sure, they all have mildly amusing interactions with the rotund director, but the entire film making process just feels like an afterthought in the film. We do get a glimpse into Hitchcock's very strange psyche, but it all just feels incomplete and shoveled in.
Unfortunately, this means that the main drive of the film is the romance between Hitchcock and his wife. In theory, it works. The two have been working and living together for years, but can barely even be called friends, and this film shows how they have to rekindle their relationship in order to get through the creation of Psycho. But, the whole thing is astonishingly hard to care about. We never get any kind of positive view of their relationship. We don't know what it was at its best, or even if it ever was a large improvement from what we are seeing now. It's a conflict with barely any stakes, and thus a conflict with almost no real drama. It's just kind of boring. Yes, the quality of the acting does manage to bring out a few really sweet moments towards the end, but it's not worth the two hours of sitting you'll have to do beforehand.
The best scenes in the entire film come from the interaction between Hitchcock and Kurtwood Smith (best known as the dad from That 70's Show) as the head of the national censor board and arguably his biggest opponent in the entire film. Some of his criticisms, like the potential nudity and violence, make sense. His insistence that American audiences won't be comfortable seeing a toilet, not so much.
This is the shortest review I've written for this website so far, and that's the most telling statement of all. Movies can do a lot of things with historical figures. Some brilliantly highlight the eccentricities and oddities of people we only casually knew of before. Some weave what we already know into a story, making us care even more about them. Hitchcock does neither. It exists, has a few amusing scenes, and that's about it. Kind of an ironic fate for the master of suspense.