December 17, 2012 -- You would think a movie about a famous movie director making a famous movie would be a movie made for movie buffs, but it isn't. That is a problem for serious movie buffs, like, say, critics, not so much for general audiences.
Movie buffs would like to have seen this movie about Alfred Hitchcock making the movie “Psycho” be more about the nuts and bolts of how the movie was made, the direction, the shot setups, the editing, etc. It has some of that in it, to be sure, but it is mainly about the relationship between Hitchcock (played by Anthony Hopkins of “The World's Fastest Indian”) and his wife, Alma Reville (Helen Mirren of “The Debt”). The two had marital problems, career conflicts and financial difficulties during the making of “Psycho,” one of the best horror films of all time.
Some critics have said the movie misses the boat by devoting so much time to this relationship, Alma's indiscretions, Hitchcock's well-known fascination with icy blonde beauties, and not devoting more time to showing how Hitchcock made such good movies. Maybe so, but it is probably worth some time in a movie like this to show that Hitchcock had a life other than just making movies. This movie concentrates more on the man behind the movies than the mechanics of movie-making, and that is a defensible choice.
Hopkins' portrayal of the great director is convincing, particularly the breathy, deliberate way his voice sounds, which is familiar to many because of Hitchcock's popular weekly TV show. The musical theme from that show can be heard over the closing credits of the movie. Hopkins is good at delivering jokes in Hitchcockian style, that famous dry wit.
One of the movie's better scenes is Hitchcock's meeting with a censorship board which used to enforce the Motion Picture Production Code (also known as the Hayes code). Chairman of the board, Geoffrey Shurlock (wonderfully played by Kurtwood Smith of “Cedar Rapids”) asks Hitchcock if there is going to be nudity in the shower scene. Hitchcock replies, “She Won't be nude. She'll be wearing a shower cap.” The film also has some other funny scenes and witticisms.
The most uncanny portrayal in the film, however, is James D'Arcy's (“Cloud Atlas”) spot-on portrayal of the late Anthony Perkins. D'Arcy looks and acts just like Perkins. He has all those little nervous, squirmy mannerisms of Perkins down cold, very impressive. Other portrayals of famous movie stars in the film are Scarlett Johansson of “The Avengers” as Janet Leigh and Jessica Biel of “Total Recall” as Vera Miles, two stars of “Psycho.”
One of the stranger characters in the film is Ed Gein, the rural Wisconsin murderer who inspired the character Norman Bates in “Psycho” (as well as Leatherface in “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and Jame Gumb, also known as “Buffalo Bill” in “Silence of the Lambs”). Gein (Michael Wincott of “The Assassination of Richard Nixon”) appears to Hitchcock as an apparition, influencing his decisions. Gein is, in effect, Hitchcock's own alter ego, representing his own dark impulses. I found the character of Gein a distraction. I don't think Gein's ghostlike appearances to Hitchcock helped the film. I have no problems, however, with the flashback scenes where the historic Ed Gein was carrying out his evil deeds.
There is quite a bit of time devoted in the film to Alma Reville and her relationship to writer Whitfield Cook (Danny Huston of “The Conspirator”). The two worked together on scripts (Cook wrote the screenplay for “Strangers on a Train”) but there was an emotional undercurrent between the two which made Hitchcock jealous. While the Alma Reville character is very interesting, the Whitfield Cook character is bland. This subplot is not one of the movie's strengths. The scenes involving Hitchcock's battles with studio executives and censors work much better and are more to the point of the film.
Fortunately, Anthony Hopkins, and particularly Helen Mirren really make this film as strong as it is, with some help from another award-winning actress, Tony Collette (“Little Miss Sunshine”) who plays Hitchcock's able assistant, Peggy Robertson. The thing that surprised me most about the story was the extent to which Alma Reville had influence over her husband's movies. The movie is a bit of a muddle, but it works. This film rates a B.
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