‘Hitchcock’ at its Heart is a Relationship Film

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HollywoodChicago.com Oscarman rating: 3.5/5.0
Rating: 3.5/5.0

CHICAGO – The great director Alfred Hitchcock had morphed to legend rather than a man, so it’s interesting that two films have recently been released about his all-too-human foibles. The feature film, starring Sir Anthony Hopkins as the director, gets inside the man’s relationships in “Hitchcock.”

Those relationships are the determining factor and centerpiece in the film, taking place around the filming of Hitchcock’s 1960 thriller classic, “Psycho.” The performances are also king in the narrative, as Sir Anthony, Helen Mirren, Scarlett Johansson, Jessica Biel, Danny Huston and James D’Arcy portray the movie stars and personalities in Hitchcock’s world with a flair that brings them all back to life. The story suffers a bit with too little behind-the-scenes elements of “Psycho,” and too much focus on the married life of Hitchcock and his wife, but the film is an enjoyable holiday treat regarding the show business culture history of a half century ago, and the complex interaction of the director and his wife.

The film opens with the movie premiere in Chicago of “North by Northwest,” the latest triumph from the Master of Suspense, Alfred Hitchcock (Hopkins). The director immediately begins the process of weeding out his next project, and comes upon a novel called “Psycho.” Along the pre-production process, there is Hitch’s loyal wife Alma Reville (Helen Mirren), who is his adviser, script supervisor and main consultant.

Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren
Final Cut: Alfred Hitchcock (Sir Anthony Hopkins) and Wife Alma Reville (Helen Mirren) in ‘Htichcock’
Photo credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures

“Psycho” is considered a bit vulgar by Paramount Pictures standards (Hitch is in the midst of a contract deal with them), so the director decides to finance the film himself. The filming begins with movie star siren Janet Leigh as Marion Crane (Scarlett Johansson) and Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates (a stunning James D’Arcy), while neglected wife Alma begins writing a script with a collaborator named Whitfield Cook (Danny Huston). Between the film and his suspicions regarding his beloved wife, Hitchcock may become the Master of Paranoia.

The pleasure in this film is seeing this Mad Men-era atmosphere so carefully and stunningly recreated. The backlots, the legendary set pieces in “Psycho” and Hopkins as Hitchcock – doing a few of the director’s famous narrative monologues – is pure pleasure, especially for those who remember the heyday. For those outside those times, it’s a lesson in studio politics and backstage liasons in movie making, with all the agents, associates, censors, executives and the wife vying for a piece of the Hitchcock success.

The casting is precise, with Sir Anthony leading the charge. There is a playfulness to his interpretation that forges a living, breathing Hitchcock. It’s enjoyable to occasionally see Hopkins sneak out of the mask and make-up as well, unerringly becoming the actor treating us to his performance. Mirren is her usual fluid self as Alma, but the script’s emphasis on her influence in the Hitchcock universe is a bit much. Although it’s fascinating to go into the psyche and motivations of a director who gave so much to the art, more about the making of “Psycho” was desired rather than the bland does-she-or-doesn’t-see suspicions regarding Alma’s capitulation to Whitfield Cook.

Regardless, the backstage exposition of “Psycho” still is present, and Scarlett Johansson knocks it out of the park as Janet Leigh, even displaying Leigh’s particular inflection of speech. James D’Arcy fortunately was born to play Anthony Perkins, and the brief interview scene with Hitchcock on his hiring as Norman Bates is a highlight of the film. D’Arcy does more in his brief scenes than most actors do in an entire film, and hopefully will get a chance at a Perkins biography at some point.

Anthony Hopkins, Scarlett Johansson, James D’Arcy
The Director, Janet Leigh (Scarlett Johansson) and Anthony Perkins (James D’Arcy) in ‘Hitchcock’
Photo credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures

The people further behind the scenes are also wonderfully cast. Super-agent Lew Wasserman (Michael Stuhlberg), Hitchcock’s secretary Peggy (Toni Collette), actress Vera Miles (Jessica Biel), “Psycho” screenwriter Joseph Stefano (Ralph “Karate Kid” Macchio in a comeback) and Paramount executive Barney Balaban (Richard Portnow) add their own brilliant quirks to this era of the movies, never to come again. There are also two stellar Chicago connections – the premiere of “North by Northwest” at the old State and Lake theater, nicely recreated, and the personification of Balaban, who built so many of the great Chicago movie palaces.

The film concludes with a typical and wonderful Hitchcockian wink-at-the-camera, a reminder of how much influence he had in the landscape of film and culture at the time. His gift to us was himself – in all the glory, idiosyncrasies and artistic humanity.

“Hitchcock” has a limited release, including Chicago, on November 23rd. Featuring Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Scarlett Johansson, Jessica Biel, James D’Arcy and Toni Collette. Screenplay by John J. McLaughlin. Directed by Sacha Gervesi. Rated “PG-13”

HollywoodChicago.com senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

Senior Staff Writer

© 2012 Patrick McDonald, HollywoodChicago.com

dori1952's picture

"HITCHCOCK" movie passes contest!

i’ve been strong fallower of hitchcock’s movies from a long time, love to have passes to see thisone thanks!

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