Alfred Hitchcock is easily one of the greatest directors of all time and you would be hard pressed to find a person who didn't at least recognize the name. However, he's more of an idea than a man at this point. When you hear Hitchcock's name you think of his films and of suspense, mystery and horror. But like all great artists there is a great story behind this director and part of that story is what Hitchcock aims to tell.
If there's one thing you take away from the following review it should really be that Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren are really, really, really, really ridiculously good actors. This film could have been as terrible as Gus Van Sant's 1998 remake of Psycho and it would have still been enjoyable thanks to their performances. Thankfully it is nowhere near that bad.
Hitchcock isn't really the life story of Alfred Hitchcock (Hopkins) in three ways. The first is the fact that it's actually the story of how his most popular (and possibly best) film Psycho was made after the studios wouldn't fund it and everyone thought Hitchcock was both over the hill and crazy for wanting to do a horror picture. The second is because it's really the story of Hitchcock and his wife/collaborator, Alma Reville (Mirren), who was influential to much of Hitchcock's work. The third reason is because the film does a lot of generalizing by reassigning characters and motivations to capture more of the man's life than actually occurred during the shooting of Psycho.
That last part may sound like a bad thing, but it really isn't. Instead of sticking to the specific facts that are known the film extrapolates from Hitchcock's entire life to define the character. By doing this the filmmakers allow a small piece of Hitchcock's life explain his entire character, much like last year's My Week With Marilyn did. It's one of the best ways to make a film about a real person as it keeps the plot from dragging and brings a more intimate picture than chronicling the entire life span of the person. It's a smart move especially for Hitchock who led a very complicated life that could have been lost in a more straightforward bio-pic's telling.
The film also does white wash his history a bit, veering closer to the comical when it could have easily gone dark. It inserts some psychosis into Hitchcock's story as he talks to Ed Gein (the man Psycho was based on) and actually fantasizes about killing. There is plenty of drama between Hitchcock and his wife as an affair possibly unfolds, but much of the man's megalomania and strangeness is kept in the "isn't that quirky" category. It does take some of the complexity out of the character that could have been there or at least could have been used better. It's hard to be too upset with these gaps as the movie handles the character it wanted to create incredibly well even if it isn't the "truest" interpretation. It's one of those instances where the redefining of the character is only an issue if you know the original character well, and even then it doesn't stop you from enjoying the new one.
This is especially so because of how damned enjoyable Anthony Hopkins' performance is. Covered in some incredible make up the man channels Hitchock like he'd been working on the role his entire life. It's a stunning performance that is both larger-than-life and incredibly nuanced -- a perfect fit for a man who was both those things. What is even more stunning is that Mirren takes Alma Reville, a woman sadly ignored by the chronicles of film history, and turns her into a character just as compelling as Hitchcock himself. She is a brief, but powerful monologue that brought the audience to applause. Hopkins plays off it perfectly too, and its awe inspiring to see these two work with each other.
First time director Sacha Gervasi needs a bit more practice to be on par with his performers, however. Because this is a film about Hitchcock he attempts to direct it like one of Hitchcock's suspense thrillers, actually stealing much of the great director's style along the way. Sometimes it works (the recreation of the shower scene) and sometimes it's a cute joke, but it becomes tired in its over use and often contradicts what's occurring in the story. It's is a great way to create the psychosis that the film attempts to establish in Hitchcock, but just feels tacky sometimes. Still, Gervasi could have done far worse as he keeps the film going at a steady clip and knows to get out of the way of his fantastic actors.
Hitchcock is an entertaining movie from beginning to end. While the character presented might be more imagination than fact, it's still a delightfully twisted character to watch. The movie definitely has two of the year's most memorable performances in it, and while the directing could have been a bit sharper it's far from bad. Strangely this is one of the feel good movies of the season and if you're into film, Hitchcock or gorgeous women you won't be upset you checked it out.