First and foremost, if you’re looking for a film that explains how Hitchcock directed Psycho or focuses on Psycho, then this is not it. You get insight into how the film was made and the delicious tension of just how important the movie was to Hitchcock’s career, but this is really more of a film about the relationship of Hitchcock (played by Anthony Hopkins) and his wife, Alma (played by Helen Mirren). This relationship is the focus of this film and it shows how devoted and supportive Alma was to Alfred, and how unaware Alfred was to that until the climax of the film. This climax shows the acting caliber of Helen Mirren as she shows just how fierce and sharply intelligent Alma truly was.
The movie rang true of Hitchcock at the beginning when he broke the fourth wall introducing the movie. I personally love when movies break the fourth wall because it’s like a bone they throw to the audience.
Hopkins’ Hitchcock is coming off his success with 1959’s “North by Northwest,” and after a comment from a reporter saying why not quit while he’s ahead, you see the brooding and determined look on Hopkins’ face as he looks at the reporter. You know something is brewing in his mind to find the next big hit. All the suggestions his writers and assistants give him can be summed up in this nice little quote, “If I did Anne Frank, people would be waiting the whole movie for the body I’ve hidden in the attic.” He wanted something different, something shocking, and something that would reinvent cinema. He needed the twisted and shocking “Psycho.” This Freudian-incestual-gore filled necrophiliac created by Robert Bloch was his next obsession along with another Hitchcock blonde.
Of course Paramount Pictures would never fund such a horrific film so Hitchcock had to fund it himself by mortgaging his house; putting further strain on his relationship with Alma, who has had it with Alfred. Alfred becomes suspicious of her having an affair when she begins a creative collaboration with Whitfield Cook (Danny Huston). Alfred and Alma’s confrontation, as mentioned earlier, is the climax bringing realization to Alfred on just how important Alma is to his success. She reminds him of all the sacrifices she has made and her anonymity when Alfred is shown in the spotlight.
Hitch comes to realize, as does the audience, that he needs Alma to make Psycho a success. They had drifted apart during the movie, with Hitch’s obsessions and Alma’s need for creative recognition. In the end they find each other again in the cutting room, where Alma helps edit the final version, making Psycho iconic.
The things that bothered me about the movie were Hopkins’ prosthetics (his upper lip looked weird because you could see his actual lip and the mask on top) and Hitchcock’s inner monologues with Ed Gein (the character on which Norman Bates was based). These scenes were Hitchcock’s way of getting into the mind of the movie, but there just weren’t enough to make it seem that way. Instead it almost looked as if Hitchcock was a schizophrenic suffering a psychotic break due to the plot of the movie he has chosen. They were actually great scenes but there just needed to be more of them to have a real insightful impact on the movie.
The supporting characters played by Scarlett Johannsson, James Darcy and Jessica Biel provide a nice element to the film, and they do not take away from the performances of Hopkins and Mirren. They added body, but when you took that bite of the main course, what you got was Hopkins and Mirren.
In the end, Hitchcock is a brilliant movie that portrays the tension-filled relationship of Alfred and Alma during the making of Psycho, and that lasting love and support are the strongest bonds. Hopkins and Mirren are magnificent together and they are what make the show. You are in for a great movie.
The experience we had with the movie itself also merits note. A couple days before the screening, a few of us went to a Hitchcock-tail Night put on by 43Kix and Fox Searchlight Pictures. They had a Hitchcock themed menu of appetizers and cocktails. They were giving away awesome long-tee shirts and mini posters. Guests also had a chance to win advance screening VIP passes to the Hitchcock movie. I had the Sharp as a Knife cocktail and the Amazing Alma…they were exquisite and very strong.
And while the movie was good, what really amazed me was the amount of people in the audience that saw the original release of Psycho. Of course they said the shower scene was very shocking and overall the movie was terrifying. They agreed with the Hitchcock’s movie depiction of the entire audience screaming. (There was even one lady in the audience who refused to see it when it came out and continues to do so even today!)
If you get a chance, definitely go see it. The film is in limited release so it might take a little effort but it’s worth it.
I would like to thank 43Kix for the Hitchcock-tail Night and the advanced screening passes.
And, lastly, before I go, a quick SPOILER ALERT!
There are so many great scenes in this movie. However my favorite was Hopkins’ Hitchcock standing outside the theater doors as the movie is playing and all you hear, as the audience, is the shower running. Of course we all know what happens next. Hopkins’ Hitchcock is outside the door conducting the scene like a maestro and stabbing away while the movie scene plays out with the audience screaming. Watching Hopkins’ dance and jab and conduct with the famous music score is priceless.