★★ / ★★★★
During the premiere of “North by Northwest,” Alfred Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins), having made forty-six movies so far, is asked by a reporter if he has considered quitting while he was ahead. This touches upon one of Hitchcock’s biggest insecurities: despite being the most prominent director in the world, he remains to be doubted by many because of his age. On his next film, his goal is to prove to the skeptics that he still has “it” and he will not be going away any time soon. Based on Robert Bloch’s novel, “Psycho” is so fresh and so daring at the time that Hitch feels he has to make it… even if it means putting his palatial home up for mortgage because Paramount decides not to finance the project.
It is somewhat of a disappointment that the film’s focus is the relationship between Hitch and his wife, Alma Reville (Helen Mirren), instead of showing the audience, through modern lens, how the legendary director made, down to the nitty-gritty details, one of his most iconic pictures. However, “Hitchcock,” based on the screenplay by John J. McLaughlin and directed by Sacha Gervasi, must be evaluated for what it tries to accomplish rather than what one wishes it should have been. On that level, it remains a mixed bag of tricks.
Appropriately, most effective are the interactions between husband and wife. It is important that we feel immediately why Hitch and Alma choose to be partners, in life and in the film business, without knowing too much about them. Right away, there is a level of camaraderie between them. Throughout, we are made to understand why they complete one another even though they have increasingly big marriage-related problems that must be addressed. I liked that their interactions are often cold but they have enough warmth from time to time to suggest a strong history.
Although Hopkins is very convincing as Hitchcock, due to the precise mannerisms and posturing as well as good makeup, Mirren manages to outshine him. Each time the camera focuses on her character’s sad eyes, I was drawn into her thoughts. I imagined how it might be like to be married to someone who is so talented but does not always know his worth because others devalue his many successes. Worse, how it must be like to be treated like a convenience rather than a spouse through many good and bad years. When Hitch and Alma are at the center, the film radiates an energy so magnetic, I could care less about the goings-on on the Paramount set.
However, there are too many scenes between Alma and Whitfield Cook (Danny Huston), a writer who hopes that Alma will influence Hitch to look at his screenplay. From the harmless flirtations to a visit to a seaside getaway, it is predictable. Eventually, it begins to feel like a dull romance picture. There is a sweetness to their exchanges, but they are consistently one-note. Whenever they are together, I felt the urge to get up and use the restroom. At least with scenes between Hitch and Alma, there is a tug-of-war of needs. With Alma and Whit, it all feels too flat, bland, boring.
The fantasy sequences involving Hitch and Ed Gein (Michael Wincott), a mass murderer from Wisconsin with whom “Psycho” is based on, do not work either. A parallel is drawn between Hitch’s increasing jealousy toward Alma and Whit as well as his own increasingly violent ideations, but it is not executed with enough verve. It feels sloppy, an afterthought. I would rather have seen more exchanges between Hitch and Vera Miles (Jessica Biel). Their relationship evokes real drama because the legendary director treats one of his stars like she is not even there.