The title of Hitchcock indicates a wider focus than director Sacha Gervasi (The Terminal, Anvil! The Story of Anvil) and screenwriter John J. McLaughlin (Black Swan) present. Author Stephen Rebello’s source material, Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho, is more indicative of the time frame, but the story is less about Psycho than the relationship between the master of suspense (Anthony Hopkins) and wife Alma Reville (Helen Mirren). Although largely uncredited, Reville provided crucial creative support to Hitchcock through her typewriter, able to rewrite on the spot and give Hitchcock instant, indispensable feedback.
It’s a revelatory story that may have been better told in better hands and with less prosthetic enhancement. Hopkins’ Hitchcock would fit right in with the ensemble for Cloud Atlas thanks to the makeup involved, and although he effortlessly inhabits the director, he veers close to caricature. Mirren provides balance that almost makes the film succeed, but not quite. Stylistically dry, Hitchcock the film builds up Psycho as an all-or-nothing comeback for Hitchcock the filmmaker, and reveals much about what went on behind the scenes. Anthony Perkins’ casting as Norman Bates, Hitchcock’s penchant for icy blondes, his food addiction and his fight for the first scene in film history that featured a toilet are explored.
But viewers looking for a salacious behind-the-scenes portrayal of Hitchcock’s obsession with Janet Leigh (Scarlett Johansson) should look elsewhere. Leigh gets a heads-up from Vera Miles (Jessica Biel) about what to expect, and Hitchcock’s cold treatment of Miles speaks to his character defects. We don’t quite see an obsessive or mentally cruel Hitchcock, but we do get hallucinatory scenes in which Hitch takes advice from Ed Gein (Michael Wincott), the inspiration for Psycho. The latter is a weak attempt to jazz up a dull film that could have used a Reville-caliber revision.