I know, I know, we all have Lincoln on the brain and Bond on the front burner.
But if the casting of Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren doesn’t fire you up to head back to the Bijou for Hitchcock, then you aren’t thinking clearly.
You are in for a treat.
The film focuses on the point in the legendary director’s career when he owed the studio a film, but was stuck on what to do next. The bosses wanted another safe hit like North by Northwest, but ‘Hitch’ (as he was called by all) was anxious to turn a new trick – mostly because the critics were beginning to put “The Master of Suspense” out to pasture.
A grisly serial killer book called Psycho had hit the stands, too gruesome for polite conversation, so Hitchcock wonders aloud to his wife and collaborator, Alma Reville (Mirren) “What if a really good director made a horror film?”
That challenge launched the conception of one of the most celebrated “horror” films of all time.
But the studios balked, prompting Hitch and Alma to put the money up themselves.
Hitchcock works on many levels.
It’s enough of a bio pic to give us a glimpse in to one of the most uniquely innovative filmmakers ever.
It manages to pluck elements from Psycho, both real and imagined, to provide enough thrills to remind you of the significance of the classic film.
It’s a relatively small film, modestly budgeted, but still works as an authentic period examination of 1959 Hollywood. All of the Paramount back lot scenes look and feel right, even if the aesthetic scope of the picture, the set pieces, and overall landscape are restrained.
Hopkins is awesome. I will always remember how quickly he enlisted me in buying him as Richard Nixon in Oliver Stone’s underrated Nixon. Same here. The film opens and closes paying homage to Alfred Hitchcock’s beloved television show, where he put his girth front and center on the tube and broke the fourth wall, expertly introducing each show with a glib British twinkle that Hollywood could never have written. He was utterly original.
Hopkins nails all of that, totally making it his own.
The heart of the film, however, is the painful disintegration of a love affair between two displaced Brits who conquered the film industry on their own terms but found themselves full of longing rather than satisfaction.
Mirren is (big shocker here) spectacular.
Both actors are in their element in this film and both actors prove every inch their stardom. This film required two heavy weight stars to work. Director Sacha Gervasi hit the jackpot with Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren, both multiple Oscar winners.
Alfred Hitchcock is not merely iconic, he is larger than life (that notch just above iconic). He was always a bigger star than the actors in his films. A Hitchcock film opening was an anxiously anticipated event.
What we learn in Gervasi’s film is just how difficult it was for Hitchcock to keep from coveting his female stars. There is a very touching scene between Hitch and Vera Miles, played beautifully by Jessica Biel. He stares at her longingly in her dressing room mirror, asking her why she turned her back on the stardom he offered and chose instead to marry and have a family. It’s such a sweet moment, reminding us of a different time in our country, seemingly less complicated but surely not less complex.
There is another effective scene where Hitchcock the director provides the paranoid inner monologue for his Psycho star, Janet Leigh (Scarlett Johansson), as she drives a car, rear screen projection providing the winding road. It’s a slick peek behind the curtain at the master conducting his symphony.
Hitchcock’s craving for his goddess image, the blonde damsel in distress, was often replaced by his food craving, ultimately fueling a self-loathing that is heart breaking – and wreaked havoc on a marriage that gave him all of the support and credibility he needed to survive in such a cut throat “what have you done for me lately?” business.
In a pivotal kitchen table moment between Hitch and Alma, when they are deciding to go full speed ahead with their commitment to Psycho, she reaches deep in to their refrigerator and pulls out a tin of caviar and nonchalantly spoons some on to a piece of toast. No formal announcement or literal indication to the audience “Hey, let’s break out the caviar!” It’s a subtle moment, probably lost on many, but one that informs the characters so specifically and is an example of the intellect of the script and its confidence of who these people were and how they rolled.
Hitchcock is less about the construction of a monumentally influential film, and more about the reconstruction of a failing marriage between two aging artists who couldn’t have survived without one another.