Sacha Gervasi’s Hitchcock tells the story behind the making of the 1960’s horror flick, Psycho. Beyond that however, it uncovers a story behind the film, and behind the man himself. Some synopses refer to John Mclaughlin’s script as a love story, and this is certainly one aspect that exists within the multi-layered plot.
Alma is the wife of Alfred Hitchcock. She is also a writer, producer and sometime-director, and according the film, the final say behind every script that Hitchcock turns into a film. It is Alma’s notes that he eagerly awaits on the set of Psycho, Alma who saves the movie when Hitchcock gets sick and shooting is three days behind, and Alma who stands (always slightly behind) Hitchcock while the press snaps his photo.
Despite the fact that her character is given less emphasis than that of her counter-part, played by Anthony Hopkins, complete with prosthetics and fake belly, one of the most memorable scenes of the film comes near the end, in a stand off between the two characters, in which Mirren delivers an Oscar-Worthy performance. Similar to the thankless role Alma continuously plays in both her marriage and her work, so seems Mirren’s role in the film, and yet her depiction of Alma is outstanding and heart wrenching in its believability.
The film begins with Hitchcock addressing the audience a la Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and throughout the story there are several nods not only to Hitchcock works, but also references to other films and filmmakers of the time, adding some playfulness to the story that those familiar with both will enjoy. On top of this Ed Gein (Michael Wincott), also appears throughout the film, haunting Hitchcock’s thoughts, both in dreams and while he is awake, but this is about as deep the as the filmmakers plunge into the mind of the master himself, keeping the story always a bit more on the superficial side than one of deep investigation into Hitchcock’s character.
With all of these elements, the problem the film seems to have is in finding its center. There is the original story on which the film is based, Stephen Rebello’s book, “Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho,” the 1959 version of the story of Ed Gein as Norman Bates in Robert Bloch’s novel, Psycho, and then there is the story of Hitchcock, the man, and his personal life and relationship with his wife Alma, which creates several subplots of its own. With so many diverging stories at play within the plot, they all end up winding a little bit short.
That being said, “Hitchcock,” is a fun adventure worth taking, and supporting characters, like Scarlett Johansson, who plays Janet Leigh as Marion Crane quite convincingly, and James D’Arcy as a creepily spot on Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates, the inclusion of Studio mogul Lew Wasserman, played by Michael Stuhlbarg, and Jessica Biel as a disgruntled Vera miles, add to the entertainment value of the film. Although, like the overall story, these characters are introduced only on the surface, their inclusion speaks to the times and to the history of a Hollywood era, and true lovers of Hitchcock and the “Golden Age,” will nonetheless enjoy the ride.