Director: Sacha Gervasi
Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Scarlet Johansson, Danny Huston, Jessica Biel.
Written by: John J. McLaughlin and (based on his book) Stephen Rebello.
Running time:98 mins
Release date: 8th February 2013
Isn’t it typical? You wait for a film about Alfred Hitchcock to come along and like buses, two come at the same time. After the recent BBC/HBO production, The Girl, about Hitchcock’s obsession with Tippi Hedren while making The Birds, now comes the film about the making of his most famous work, Psycho. What is a fairly routine bio-pic is made extraordinary by the two central performances. Possibly the best screen partnership in years.
After the success of North By Northwest, film director Alfred Hitchcock is looking for his next production when he stumbles on a book called Psycho, based on the grisly serial murders of Ed Gein. No one wants to make the film. The censors are concerned about the contents and are questioning whether they all allow it their recommendation, the studio, Paramount, are so disgruntled they refuse to finance it. This puts Hitchcock into a difficult situation and as stubborn as he is, he decides to finance it himself. This immediately puts a strain on his marriage to his wife and collaborator, Alma. She, in turn, has been offered the chance to work on a script with writer, Whitfield Cook. This brings the green-eyed monster out of the woodwork.
This is a film that isn’t just about the making of a classic but more about the temperamental relationship between two people who don’t act like a regular married couple. This is the hinge point of the film. While it is interesting to see some of he background behind the horror giant that is Psycho, from Hitchcock obsessive nature in finding the right blonde, to taking out his anger and frustrations on the infamous shower scene, the film has a somewhat uneven sense of tone about it. What the film’s real strength is showing Hitchcock and Alma’s private life.
Sasha Gervasi’s workmanlike direction is fine but the inclusion of Ed Gein as a kind of conscious figure for Hitch doesn’t work and unbalanced the film’s overall tone, throwing it into a fantasy world. What would have been more in tone is the Hitchcock’s now legendary breaking of the fourth wall and addressing the audience. If this had been in place of the Gein’s scenes, maybe it wouldn’t have been so uneven.
That said, the film’s performances are spot on. Scarlet Johansson’s Janet Leigh oozes classic Hollywood glamour while Danny Huston is perfectly slimey as Cook, the writer wanting more from his relationship with Alma.
The film, however, belongs to Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren. As the larger-than-life director, Hopkins engulfs the role, even if he is covered in rubber, he commands the screen with his presence. You genuinely forget you are watching Hopkins. Unlike Toby Young’s Hitch from The Girl, Hopkins’ Hitchcock is more a Hollywood’s idea of the man. Young gave us a sleazy, bullying, nauseating man whereas here he isn’t as monstrous, just a man led to jealousy and being demanding.
He is more than equally matched by Mirren, who brings us a very sympathetic Alma, his long suffering wife. She doesn’t, however, show a weak woman but one who Hitchcock cannot live without. She makes the major decisions for him and without her, Hitchcock wouldn’t be half the man he was. Mirren makes Alma so ordinary and yet she was far from that. Together, the leads are at their best when sharing the screen and I think will be hard pushed to see a better team effort in any other film this year.
Not a perfect piece of work by a long shot and I do wonder who this is aimed at, it still is a fascinating, sometimes charming, often witty affair and I, for one, thoroughly enjoyed it. Now its time to watch Psycho again.