When Alfred Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins) buys the film rights to Robert Bloch's novel Psycho, he is a highly regarded filmmaker at Paramount. But this choice for his next film is questioned by the studio - and just about everyone else. They don't finance it - but he makes it, and Paramount agrees to distribute it. But not very widely. Hitch and his wife Alma (Helen Mirren) have a somewhat stormy and sometimes uneasy relationship, even though Hitch recognises the enormous help he gets from her. Determined but troubled, Hitch pushes on - with Alma's help - until the film's narrow release, which he engineers into a frenzy, launching his most successful film, a signature movie despite the odds.
Review by Louise Keller:
The essence of Alfred Hitchcock, with his booming, larger-than-life presence, controlling manner and voyeuristic nature is well captured in this entertaining drama, offering a background peek into the making of arguably his greatest work -Psycho. Based on the book by Stephen Rebello and adapted by Black Swan screenwriter John J. McLaughlin, the film has an alluring voyeuristic feel about it, as we are invited into the professional as well as the private world of the Master of Suspense.
The masterful makeover of veteran Anthony Hopkins, coupled by his awe-inspiring depiction (mannerisms and all), is so eerily effective that in a way, it keeps us at arms length. A far cry from director Sacha Gervasi's first film Anvil: The Story of Anvil (2008), an incongruous and passionate doco about the 80s heavy metal band, Hitchcock often feels like a surreal caricature in a soap opera about his life, albeit a rather wonderful one. In that sense, there is an element of superficiality to the work; it is in Hitchcock's relationship to his wife and collaborator, Alma Reville (Helen Mirren) that the pulse of truth beats strongly.
What if someone really good made a horror movie and killed his leading lady half way through? Hitchcock wonders aloud to Alma, as he cogitates on his next project - his last for Paramount, after his successful North By North West for MGM. Intrigued by the themes of Robert Bloch's novel Psycho, loosely based on the Wisconsin murderer, Hitchcock is convinced he has found his screenwriter in Joseph Stefano (Ralph Macchio), when in answer to his question about what does he talk to his psychiatrist every day, Stefano reveals: 'Sex, rage, my mother.'
What the Studios lack in enthusiasm for the project, Hitchcock commits with his own money, elevating not just his reputation but also his beautiful home and lavish lifestyle that include shipments of fois gras from Maxim's in Paris. He and Alma may sleep in separate beds, eat at separate tables and lead somewhat separate lives, but they are inextricably bound together. When Alma is flattered by the attentions of aspiring writer Whitfield Cook (Danny Huston), Hitchcock is devoured by jealousy, despite his well documented blonde actress obsessions.
References to Hitchcock's past movies, leading ladies and how the James Stewart character in Vertigo (which was considered a flop in its day) was basically a self portrait and always watching, are clearly fascinating. Equally, if not more so, is the recreation of the Anthony Perkins and Janet Leigh characters, with James D'Arcy disconcertingly reminiscent and Scarlett Johansson a breath of fresh air. Look for Toni Collette with red lips, a black wig and spectacles as Hitch's well versed assistant. She is terrific. There are interesting insights too, into the censorship issues of the day and the actual shooting of the infamous shower scene that has audiences shrieking in their seats. The scene at the film's premiere as the screams come on cue, that shows Hitch standing in the foyer, as though he were conducting them, is delightful.
With content this riveting, there is plenty to enjoy and Hitchcock is a thoroughly absorbing interlude that makes us eager to revisit the films that make up his extraordinary legacy.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
I suppose if you boil it down, this is a 'let's put on a show' story in 1959 Hollywood, and the cause is a man's large reputation, his good fortune and his happiness. That's enough reason to drive anyone. Based on what is said to be Stephen Robello's deeply researched book (I can't comment on its veracity), Hitchcock is also a character study and a snapshot of his life over the few crucial months of making Psycho.
For anyone with even a passing interest in cinema, Hitchcock is a legendary figure and a story that purports to take us inside his private world and public life is irresistible. I had some reservations, though, concerned that not even the great Anthony Hopkins could pull off an impersonation of the iconic figure. Everything else is secondary, really, and while the transformation is padded and a bit forced at times (both physically and in mannerisms) the character does come through as authentic - or authentic enough.
He eats and drinks too much, he is unmanageable and yet he's no ogre; indeed, there's a sweetness to his characteristic manner of speaking as if over-elocuting. His self doubts are well explored and his weaknesses all laid bare - and it's not just consumables. Helen Mirren takes us through a few of them in various sharply written scenes and we do get a sense of the roller coaster nature of their partnership ... assuming it is true.
Although nothing and nobody can replace the original cast of Psycho, we accept these actors in the context of a dramatisation: Scarlett Johansson as Janet Leigh who showers, Jessica Biel as Vera Miles her sister, and James D'Arcy as Anthony Perkins - the psycho. Danny Huston plays the intrusive supporting role of the wanna be writer Whitfield Cook, clawing at Alma for her help and arousing Hitch's jealousy, and Richard Portnow plays Paramount President Barney Balaban with aplomb. Toni Collette is terrific as Peggy the capable PA and Michael Stuhlbarg makes a great impression as Hitch's agent Lew Wasserman.
The question we all ask when looking at a biopic is inevitably: Is this true, is this really what he/she did/said? We can never know 100%, but we can get an approximation. We want to know how does talent work? How is a great film made? What makes a Hitchcock tick? And we can only ever get an approximation - but cinema is perhaps the most useful artform to deliver such an approximation, through the eyes, the words and the relationships.
Of course this question is irrelevant when it comes to the ghostly fantasy/nightmare presence of Wisconsin murderer Ed Gein (Michael Wincott), the mother-obsessed killer who served as the inspiration for the novel.
Director Sacha Gervasi allows himself the indulgence of bookending the film with typical, well loved Hitchockian monologues to camera, which works because it underlines the character we (some of us) remember and his wry sense of black humour. This device also frames the film as something of an artifice, not to be taken too literally; it's very clever.
Email this article
CAST: Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Scarlett Johansson, James D'Arcy, Jessica Biel, Michael Stuhlbarg, Toni Collette, Michael Wincott, Kurtwood Smith, Richard Portnow, Danny Huston
PRODUCER: Ivan Reitman, Tom Pollock, Joe Medjuck
DIRECTOR: Sacha Gervasi
SCRIPT: John J. McLaughlin (book by Stephen Rebello)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Jeff Cronenweth
EDITOR: Pamela Martin
MUSIC: Danny Elfman
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Judy Becker
RUNNING TIME: 98 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Fox Searchlight
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: January 10, 2013
RIVERSIDE SCREEN PREMIERES
A program of premiere screenings of new movies prior to their commercial release
on 6 consecutive Tuesdays, starts February 17, 2015 at Riverside Theatre,
Curated & presented by Andrew L. Urban, discussion to
follow with special guests. Briefing notes provided.