Hitchcock (out Friday, Nov. 23), which takes place during the making of Psycho, should be called Hitchcock and Alma. Yes, we get to peek behind the shower curtain to see how the iconic movie was made, but the focus is more on the relationship between the legendary director, played by Anthony Hopkins under layers of latex, and his wife, portrayed by the indomitable Helen Mirren. The veteran actress has the best role in the film, showing quiet strength, fierce intelligence, and vulnerability as she stands by her man and smiles while he basks in his glory.
Hopkins does a somewhat credible job, but it feels more like impersonation than transformation. I was always aware of the heavy makeup, and his voice is 20% Hopkins and 80% Hitchcock. Sometimes his belly protruded more than other times, making me wonder if he had differently sized fake bellies.
All this was distracting, as was casting other name stars like Scarlett Johansson and Jessica Biel as Janet Leigh and Vera Miles, respectively. When Johansson first appeared, I thought, “Oh, that’s Scarlett Johansson in a retro wig.” The actress eventually won me over, especially in the shower scene when she looks truly terrified, but I shouldn’t have to get over the hurdle of seeing Johansson before I saw Leigh up on screen.
Biel can never be convincing to me in a period piece because she has modern-day Chiclets teeth—seemingly veneered, perfectly even and white. I kept thinking teeth did not look like that more than 50 years ago. This may sound trivial, but anything that makes a performance less believable is a problem. On the flip side, James D’Arcy is very effective as Anthony Perkins, even if the role is small. I had no idea who D’Arcy was so I totally bought him as a young, jittery Perkins.
Director Sacha Gervasi, working from a script John J. McLaughlin wrote based on Stephen Rebello’s book Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho, never clearly defines the movie’s tone. It seems he was unsure if it should be an exploration of the troubled personal life of a director many considered to be genius, of Alma’s loneliness and feelings of neglect, or if it should be a collection of Hollywood anecdotes and wink-wink moments, inviting the audience to laugh along at things we already know about Psycho and Hitchcock’s oeuvre. It ends up straddling the line, which leaves story lines stranded, such as Leigh being seemingly terrorized by Hitch during the shower scene, but then acting friendly toward him as if nothing happened.
One could argue the movie is like the man himself, wanting to be commercially entertaining but also wishing to be taken seriously. While Hitchcock’s work is revered now, he never won a competitive Oscar, and this movie will also probably not garner much respect from the Academy.
Nerd verdict: Hitches in Hitchcock
Photos: Fox Searchlight