Hitchcock must be trying to f*ck me. After all, it stroked me just the right way. Director Sacha Gervasi has turned the story of Alfred Hitchcock directing Psycho, a film that arguably changed cinema forever, into a beautiful romance and a witty behind the scenes Hollywood farce, bookended by on-camera narration from Hitchcock himself, played by Sir Anthony Hopkins, in an ode to his televised hosting duties on “Alfred Hitchcock Presents.” His first appearance, observing the serial killer Ed Gein as he goes about his mania, signs a contract with the audience, promising that Hitchcock will examine the master filmmaker’s passions with a twisted glimmer of joy, and the picture fulfills it end of the bargain in spades. And, in Ed Gein’s case, with a spade to the back of the head.
Yes, Gein, played here by Michael Wincott (his most prominent performance in over ten years; we missed you, sir), starts Hitchcock off just right, reminding us that as wonderful as Psycho is – and it’s one of the best movies ever made – the movie wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the darkest recesses of the human soul. Nor, as we discover throughout this film, would the film exist if the director didn’t have a nearly overwhelming darkness inside him too. Hopkins’ performance as Alfred Hitchcock is severe, sometimes abandoning the director’s familiar whimsy to a fault, but overall presenting us with the flawed humanity behind a storyteller whose obsessions were laid bare before the entire world for decades… an entire world that lined up in droves to get a glimpse of his morbid sensibilities.
Moreover, Hitchcock reminds us that he didn’t do it alone, finding within the narrative of Psycho’s production a rich love story between Hitchcock and his wife and lifelong collaborator Alma Reville, played by Dame Helen Mirren. Married for decades, and often barely tolerating each other, Hitchcock and Reville find themselves repeatedly testing the boundaries of their relationship, with Alma dedicating much of her time to a writing collaboration with Whitfiled Cook, the screenwriter of Strangers on a Train, played by Danny Huston, and Hitchcock leering lasciviously at his female leads, whom he groomed to embody his own perception of the perfect woman. Jessica Biel may be the film’s weakest link as Vera Miles, the star of Psycho and The Wrong Man who “betrayed” Hitchcock by abandoning stardom for her family, but Scarlett Johansson shines as Janet Leigh, who keeps a friendly distance from her director while suffering his gross psychological manipulations on set.
At its core, Hitchcock wants to be an underdog story, about a director who thinks he’s lost his creative touch and so risks everything, his marriage and livelihood, to direct a motion picture that can give the world something new. But we know how it ends, Psycho is Psycho after all, so it’s fortunate that Sacha Gervasi has found in the story this beautiful if glorified love story about complicated but passionate artists finding each other over and over again whilst simultaneously pushing each other away with all their might. Hitchcock transcends the Hollywood insider gags – although there are plenty of good ones – and becomes a meaningful love note to a man, his obsessions, and the toll they took on those closest to him while the world watched in wonder.
I have no idea if Hitchcock plays to someone who isn’t already familiar with the man and his work. I just know that if that doesn’t describe you, you’re already missing out on the finer things in life. This is a mash note not just to a celebrated director but to film lovers everywhere. Alright, Hitchcock. You can have me. Be gentle, and call me afterwards.
Read CraveOnline's original review of Hitchcock.
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