Alfred Hitchcock, the ‘master of suspense,’ is arguably one of Hollywood’s most influential directors, with such works as North by Northwest, Vertigo and The Birds to name but a few. Sacha Gervasi’s most recent biopic, Hitchcock, follows the director during the making of Psycho and provides a unique view into the uneasy marriage between Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins) and his wife Alma Reville (Helen Mirren).
The film’s attempt to portray a marriage strained by jealousy, resentment and the pressures of public life is at times shallow. Hitchcock often opts for comedy and nostalgia rather than depth or analysis of the complex relationships between its characters.
Hopkins makes for a convincing Hitchcock with the aid of a body suit and face prosthetics, and the actor successfully captures Hitchcock’s iconic upturned stare. But,it is Mirren’s portrayal of Alma that makes the unconventional couple come to life. Mirren’s performance elicits both laughter and sympathy, in addition to a winning monologue that is already garnering Oscar buzz.
Supporting actors include Scarlett Johansson and Jessica Biel as Janet Leigh and Vera Miles, respectively, who become the objects of Hitchcock’s fascinations — and seemingly never more than that. Psycho fans will find James D’Arcy’s portrayal of Anthony Perkins (the man who would portray the awkward, mother-loving Norman Bates) scarily realistic- from his appearance to mannerisms.
Hitchcock benefits from hindsight; it takes advantage of the audience’s presumed knowledge of both Psycho and Hitchcock’s biography by infusing nuanced allusions into the soundtrack, dialogue and sets. I highly recommend watching Psycho before Hitchcock, or many of these references will be lost.
Hitchcock is light-weight and entertaining. Fans of Hitchcock’s work are sure to love it, if only because it brings the director back to life. But for anyone seeking a more profound analysis of Hitchcock’s work and personal life, it would be best to look elsewhere.