*. Casting! While sharing the same initials, Anthony Hopkins doesn’t look anything at all like Alfred Hitchcock. But of course he didn’t look anything at all like Richard Nixon either. In Nixon, however, I thought he at least partially succeeded in giving us the man. Here, however, I never lost the sense that he was just an actor doing a Hitchcock impersonation.
*. Scarlett Johansson as Janet Leigh. Possibly even a bigger stretch. But she’s not that important a character in this film so I guess it doesn’t matter as much.
*. Helen Mirren as Alma Reville. Again not even close in appearance, though I suspect few people watching would have any idea what Alma Reville looked like anyway.
*. James D’Arcy as Anthony Perkins. A near ringer, but he plays Perkins as Norman Bates, which struck me as wrong. Norman Bates was a great performance, not who Perkins secretly was. But as with Leigh, it’s a small part.
*. Roger Ebert: “Hitchcock tells the story not so much as the making of the film, but as the behind-the-scenes relationship of Alma and Hitch. This is a disappointment, since I imagine most movie fans will expect more info about the film’s production history.”
*. I don’t know about most fans, but it was disappointing for me The film is based on Stephen Rebello’s book Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho, and Rebello also worked on the script. Given this scholarly background I thought it took a lot of liberties even concerning basic matters of production. The business about re-mortgaging their house, for example, is made up, as is Hitch’s crashing the shower scene to take a stab at all of his tormentors.
*. Poor George Tomasini. He edited Psycho but according to the story here that job was solely performed by Hitch and Alma as a kind of couples therapy.
*. Instead of being about the making of Psycho the movie focuses more on the marriage of Hitch and Alma. A potentially interesting subject — it was apparently sexless aside from what gave rise to Patricia, and there was a possibility Alma had an affair — but it’s dealt with in only the most conventional way.
*. What I mean by conventional is the plot. Hitch seems to be at the top of the world as North by Northwest premieres but then the question of his getting old is crudely introduced. Has he lost his mojo? Experiencing boredom and doubt, he wants to prove himself by doing something crazy, finally risking everything, or at least his mansion (complete with pool), to make Psycho. Meanwhile, Alma is involved, kind of, with the never-to-be-trusted Danny Huston (playing screenwriter Whitfield Cook). There’s tension in the marriage. They have it out, but emerge stronger for the ordeal. Then the movie looks ready to bomb (another Vertigo even!) but they save it. Indeed they triumph, spectacularly and together.
*. It really is shocking how trite the ending is. Here’s the dialogue they exchange as the flashbulbs pop on the red carpet. She: You know darling, this could be the biggest success of your career. He: Our career. You know Alma, I will never be able to find a Hitchcock blonde as beautiful as you. She: I’ve waited 30 years to hear you say that. He: And that, my dear, is why they call me the Master of Suspense.
*. Alma Reville was a screenwriter. I can only imagine what she would think of a scene like that. I don’t think it would have made the final cut.
*. Director Sacha Gervasi doesn’t seem to have been inspired by the material, though the film does try to thrown in some interesting wrinkles. Ed Gein, for example, keeps popping up, representing Hitchcock’s own inner demons. But I was still left wondering just what those demons were. Then there are the knowing jokes, such as Hitch playing the audience like an orchestra. But where is the insight? Where the wit, except for quoting some of Hitch’s better known bon mots? Where is the placement of Psycho in any kind of context, or argument made for its importance? “I feel like I’m just treading water,” Hitch complains at the beginning of the film. By the end of Hitchcock I could relate.