“Hitchcock,” about iconic director of suspense Alfred Hitchcock during the time he made “Psycho,” will work just fine for his longtime fans.
It’s amusing, contains some insight into Hitchcock’s psyche, and features an Oscar-caliber performance by Helen Mirren as his wife, Alma Reville. I was entertained, particularly by clever dialogue written by John McLaughlin (“The Black Swan”).
But younger filmgoers might find this a bit of a yawner if they’re not familiar with Hitchcock’s public persona in the late 1950s. The picture’s focus is on his personal life, not on the making of his most famous scare flick, and it’s slow in the middle.
Even older audience members who remember that persona will find Anthony Hopkins’ performance as Hitchcock to be slightly problematic. While Hopkins more or less captures some of Hitchcock’s qualities — the blank stare, the droll wit — he often sounds more like Hopkins and does not attempt to re-create his character’s voice, which was every bit as distinctive as Julia Child’s in its own way.
Hopkins also appears restricted by heavy padding and makeup that fails to make him look much like Hitch. More than once you’ll see the sheen of sweat on his lip and wonder how much latex those droplets are coating.
Nonetheless, the movie’s focus on Hitchcock’s obsession with young, blonde starlets and the impact it had on his marriage is intriguing — doubly so when you learn what a key collaborator Reville was in Hitchcock’s creative process.
The story begins with the smash opening of “North by Northwest,” then turns to Hitchcock’s problem of trying to top himself late in his career. His wife wants him to look at a script by Whitfield Cook (“Strangers on a Train”), but Hitch suspects Alma’s interest in Cook (Danny Huston, perfect as a slightly oily paramour) isn’t purely about writing.
This is particularly hard for Alma to bear as she watches Hitch’s laserlike focus on “Psycho” starlet Janet Leigh (Scarlett Johansson, radiant but otherwise not much like Leigh). An accomplished writer herself, Alma decides to give Hitch a lesson in jealousy, which provokes a crisis both on the set and at home.
Equally amusing is how the corpulent Hitchcock is portrayed as someone as obsessed with food and alcohol as he is blondes, despite Alma’s constant efforts to get him to watch his weight.
You’ll also enjoy a scene in which he goes toe to toe with the movie censorship office and outsmarts its loudest alarmist (Kurtwood Smith, “That ’70s Show”).
Less successful are Hitchcock’s imaginary interactions with the serial killer who inspired “Psycho.” They distract more than they add.
I appreciated Toni Collette as Hitch’s personal assistant, Michael Stuhlbarg as his agent, Jessica Biel as actress Vera Miles and Ralph Macchio’s cameo as “Psycho’s” screenwriter.
But Mirren steals the picture as the exasperated but loyal and loving wife who must deal with the great one’s shenanigans, tamping down her own needs and emotions until it all becomes too much.
Mirren, already a Screen Actors Guild and Golden Globe nominee for this movie, looks likely to notch her fifth Academy nomination come January. She deserves it.
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