It is a most fortuitous coincidence that I am taking a class on the life and works of Alfred Hitchcock in the year of the release of the first real Hitchcock biopics–HBO’s The Girl being one, and the film I saw last night, Hitchcock, being the other. I haven’t seen The Girl, though the professor of the class (the Alma and Alfred Hitchcock chair, by the way, due to his status as one of the foremost, if not the foremost, Hitchcock scholar in the land) seems to think that it’s awful. But as of last night, I have seen Hitchcock. And it is far, far from awful.
The film covers the making of Hitchcock’s most popular and revolutionary film, Psycho, as the book it was based on (by Stephen Rebello) had done. (Author’s Note: I would recommend you see Psycho before seeing this film. Hitchcock will spoil some of its more inspired twists.) At the start of the film, Hitchcock’s latest effort, North by Northwest, premieres, and it is a rousing success, but the writings of a particularly disdainful critic stick in his mind, and he feels the need to do something new and ambitious to keep himself relevant as he enters into his 60s. So he finds the most pulpy novel in America, buys up all the copies so that no one knows the ending, and sets out to work on a picture no one wants to make–Psycho. He and his wife, Alma Reville, his most important and necessary collaborator, have to finance the picture themselves, in turn risking everything they have–their standing in Hollywood, their house, etc.–leading to one of the more interesting making of stories in the history of cinema.
Anthony Hopkins is obviously solid as the title character, and brings a great deal of nuance to the table, but the film belongs to Helen Mirren, who brings to life the amazing woman behind the man with an appropriate amount of vivacity and reality. She deserves an Oscar nomination, if not a win, for that performance. Because the film centers so much on the main couple, the characters that surround them are reduced to smaller roles, so to flesh them out with considerable presence, great actors are needed. Scarlett Johansson, my future wife what who said that, plays the star Janet Leigh, the always amazing Michael Stuhlbarg plays Hitch’s agent, character actor Danny Huston gets a chance to shine, Toni Collette seems slighted in the small role of Hitch’s secretary, but makes the most of it, Jessica Biel brings a necessary humanity and pettiness to Vera Miles, but the real scene-stealer is James D’Arcy, who IS Anthony Perkins–there’s no better way to say it. He has maybe two or three scenes, but he deserves serious consideration for literally being this other person.
The direction, by Sacha Gervasi, is necessarily tight and smart. One rushed, handheld sequence in particular really brings you into the emotional mentality of the master of suspense. The writing (by John McLaughlin, a long way from his last film, Black Swan) is consistently funny, absolutely beautiful to Hitchcock scholars–the nuances are stellar, though casual moviegoers might not get them–and worthy of consideration for Best Adapted Screenplay.
Technical stuff is superb. Danny Elfman’s score is whimsical and fabulous, bringing in elements of Bernard Herrmann’s classic motifs. Jeff Cronenweth proves he can shoot something other than Fincher darkness with his obviously Hitchcockian cinematography. The period aspects of the film are very well-done and the editing, by Fighter editor Pamela Martin, is tight and un-excessive.
Overall, Hitchcock is a beautiful, cute, funny and smart film that deserves serious Academy attention, with no technical flaws. It’s so obvious everyone on this movie was making it for the art, the passion and the legacy, and not the money. A legitimate labor of love, a rarity in modern Hollywood. Check it out if you love a good love story, a heartwarming story, or even Hitchcock. It’s a surprisingly awesome date movie.