Alfred Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins) is justifiably lionized as one of the greatest movie directors. From 1940-1959 he was at his peak, specializing in sophisticated romance/thrillers in films starring immensely popular actors like Cary Grant, James Stewart, and Grace Kelly.
This film is a biographical drama endeavoring to capture Hitchcock’s personality by telling the story of his all time biggest grossing film, Psycho (1960). Apparently tiring of churning out the same type of film, despite their reliable popularity with audiences of the time, Hitchcock decided to make a horror film. He was greeted with objections from Paramount Studios president, Barney Balaban (Richard Portnow), and just about everyone else to whom he pitched the idea. The only person who was in his corner was his wife and long time collaborator Alma Reville (Helen Mirren).
Well directed by Sacha Gervasi, from a script by John J. McLaughlin from the book Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho by Stephen Rebello, the clear star of the film is Mirren. I saw the film at its Los Angeles premiere at the Academy Theater in Los Angeles (the home of the Producers Guild), packed with stars and Hollywood insiders, and when Alma castigates Alfred in a wonderful put down, the industry-savvy audience erupted in applause.
What is interesting is that while Hitchcock was correct in his judgment of how well Psycho would be received by the movie-going audience, it was the end of Hitchcock’s incredibly productive run as a maker of popular mysteries. Of the 53 films Hitchcock directed during his career, not counting Psycho, his top nine grossing films were between 1940 and 1959, ending with North by Northwest. As the following chart from Hubpages.com shows, Psycho, the next film he made after North by Northwest, was his top grossing film, but it was also his last hit. Subsequent efforts to return to the genre that made him a star were disappointing.
Movie (Year) Box Office in 2011 Dollars Stars
- #1 Psycho (1960)
- #2 Rear Window (1954)
Grace Kelly, James Stewart
- #3 Spellbound (1945)
- #4 Notorious (1946)
- #5 North by Northwest (1959)
- #6 Rebecca (1940)
- #7 To Catch a Thief (1955)
Cary Grant, Grace Kelly
- #8 Dial M for Murder (1954)
- #9 The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)
James Stewart, Doris Day
- #10 Suspicion (1941)
Hopkins was put in the difficult position of portraying a person with a distinctive, highly personalized manner of speech. Mostly in the past when someone has tried to portray a person with such distinctive mannerisms and has chosen to mimic them, it has turned out badly, the actor appearing like a cheap version of Rich Little, resulting in a caricature, diminishing the effort to replicate the character of the person being portrayed. Hopkins does a valiant job of trying to duplicate Hitchcock’s manner of speaking and in this case I don’t think he had any choice, but it’s not Hitch and it’s obvious. That said, it would probably be impossible to make a movie about Hitch that didn’t use his unique style of speaking.
Gervasi does an exceptional job of capturing the ambience of the era and location. The cast is very good, especially those portraying familiar actors. Scarlett Johansson is a believable Janet Leigh with the body to back it up and Vera Miles would likely be satisfied with Jessica Biel’s sympathetic portrayal of her, although probably nobody will ever know since she refuses interviews.
While this is a biopic of Hitchcock, it’s mostly about his relationship with his wife. Hopkins’ performance is good, but Mirren steals the film (how many times have I said that in recent years?) Even though she is 67 years old, there is no better actor in the world.
Although this is entertaining, I found it a bit slow.