Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren star in a 2012 biopic, chronicling a slice of the life of the master of suspense, Alfred Hitchcock. The film somewhat slipped under the radar when it debuted, and was met with mixed reviews, critically. Though there are some questionable directorial decisions by Sacha Gervasi, and a general lack of focus, the quirky tone, delightfully nostalgic filmic reenactments and stellar leading cast make it an enjoyable and mostly positive experience that leaves you with a good feeling.
The biggest problems come down to the script, which is muddled and unfocused. The writer seems unclear on whether they’re telling the tale of the relationship between Hitchcock and his wife, Alma (Mirren), or whether this about the making of Psycho. Scenes are cut together in a bizarre order, and the character motivations aren’t always entirely clear. A particularly strange choice comes from Hitchcock’s objectively shot internal monologues, which feature him speaking to serial killer Ed Gein, for advice. Gein was of course a key influence for the character of Norman Bates, but the film never revolves around Hitchcock’s need to understand the mind of the killer, nor is there any suggestion that he himself is having similar psychotic thoughts. So why include it? I’ve racked my brain considering why and can’t see any reason other than for the stylistic image of the sharply dressed Hitchcock juxtaposed with the filthy, murderous Gein. The addition harms the film far more than it helps and clashes dreadfully with the often humorous, likeable tone of the rest of the movie.
What isn’t harmful, however, are the inspired casting choices of Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren as Alfred and Alma respectively. Hopkins delivers an incredibly believable performance, nailing the voice and mannerisms of the master of suspense to a tee. Equally, Mirren exudes a magnetic energy in her often hilarious, yet pathotic interpretation of the exasperated Mrs. Hitchcock. The film explores in great depth, her struggle to cope with living with the arrogant, stubborn, difficult Hitch, but also her own feeling of inadequacy following his huge successes. If there’s one element that the script truly delivers on, it’s the relationship between these two. While it might fanny around with other irrelevant plot points, the degenerating relationship really is the heart and soul, and the most appealing aspect of the film. A shout out should also go to the prosthetics (which won an academy award!) to transform Hopkins into the rotund, bald, and larger than life man himself.
Despite the lack of coherency within the narrative, however, there is a wonderful charm to the scenes that delve into the creation of Psycho. The casting of Bates, Marion, and Lila is well done and scarily accurate, offering plenty of easter eggs and pieces of intrigue for fans of the film. Equally, the film also explores the shooting of classic scenes, such as the car shots, which are delightfully endearing and somewhat act as a time capsule for the filmmaking of the 50s and 60s. If the script was a little more developed and more attention had been paid to the creation of Psycho, this element could’ve been the biggest draw of the movie. As is, they’re great fun to view as a slice of the history of Hollywood cinema and the archaic and creative methods of making films. More of this and less scenes with Gein would’ve really helped.
In conclusion, Hitchcock isn’t the best biopic I’ve seen. It’s messy and muddled and contains some bizarre filmic choices that stem from an unpolished script. However, the setting and tone of the film are bright and vibrant, presenting an optimistic take on an often controversial man. Perhaps this film does see him through rose tinted glasses, with a clear adoration for his work, but the compelling lead performances and well written dialogue make what we see on screen believable. Ultimately, it leaves you with a good feeling, and a strong message that nobody, even the greatest masters of their art, does it alone.