Judge Gordon Sullivan suffers vertigo every time he looks out the rear window.
Behind every Psycho is a great woman.
Every movie is inherently unlikely. Given the cost—both personal and monetary, whether measured in dollars or time—that attends the making of everything from the most obscure home movie to the biggest Hollywood blockbuster, it's amazing that they ever get made at all. So many things have to go right, and so many people have to be willing that it's almost miraculous. Some movies are more unlikely than others, some more miraculous. Whether because of their cast, their subject matter, or their cost, certain films stand out as almost impossible. Though its place in cinematic history is assured, Psycho is one of those films. Made when its director was 60, at the end of a long and prolific career stretching back to the silent era, Psycho did not cleave to anyone's expectations. It was a cheap, nasty little film that dared to tell a censor-baffling story, kill off its star in the first third, and was financed by the director himself after a career largely entrenched in the studios. Given these extraordinary circumstances, it's almost of secondary importance that Psycho became, after its release, so successful and lasting in its influence. Hitchcock takes a tongue-in-cheek look at the time surrounding the making of the film, providing a blackly comic portrait of the artist as an old man.
Facts of the Case
Alfred Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins, Nixon) is 60, and has just released North by Northwest. He's afraid that there's nothing left to conquer—the press thinks he's done his best work and the studios only want to offer him more of the same—and with the "failure" of Vertigo so recently behind him, he's well aware of what it means to buck expectations. His wife Alma (Helen Mirren, Red), though, believes in him. When he sets out to adapt Robert Bloch's novel Psycho, she stands by him, even though it means mortgaging their house to finance the picture themselves. However, when her writing job with a handsome friend (Danny Huston, 30 Days of Night) threatens to upend their relationship, Hitchcock is faced with one demand too many.
Hitchcock is, of course, the perfect title for this film because it belongs to Alma Reville, Lady Hitchcock, as much as it belongs to the more famous visage of Alfred. Though the film is being sold as "The story behind the making of Psycho," it is both less and more than that. At its heart is a love story of the kind rarely seen in mainstream films—that between two older, long-married people. Sure, we see them in cinema all the time, but almost always at the periphery. In Hitchcock the relationship between Alma and Alfred is front-and-center. The pair collaborate on the making of Psycho, and we see them work out their differences against the backdrop of that stormy production. So, in a sense the film chronicles the making of that famous horror film, but the film's main point is about the relationship between Alfred and Alma.
Of course, the film doesn't play these things straight. Hitchcock was known for his droll sense of humor, and Hitchcock is perfectly willing to borrow that. Viewers should not go in expecting a straight drama. Instead, the film opens with a scene from history: Ed Gein's murder of his brother. The deed complete, Hitchcock himself appears in frame to muse about the circumstances surrounding Gein's famous crimes. In fact, Gein will appear numerous times throughout Hitchcock to symbolize his id and Hitchcock will address viewers a number of times as well. This creates a slightly humorous, hallucinatory feel to film that is only heightened by a beautiful recreation of the atmosphere of the set.
The hallucinatory effect is heightened by the pitch-perfect casting. Scarlett Johansson looks just enough like Janet Leigh to be striking, and James D'Arcy's take on Anthony Perkins is simply eerie. The bulk of the eerie, though, goes to Anthony Hopkins for his take on Hitch. Buried under piles and piles of makeup, Hopkins still emotes with surprising nuance. He's jealous, bitter, brilliant, and enthusiastic in equal measure, which Hopkins carries off with style and verve, never descending into camp or caricature. Helen Mirren, though, deserves the lion's share of the credit here. She has to react to this titanic personality (and person, if we're being honest) while maintaining her calm. She has to also be convincingly pulled away from and then to Hitchcock, finally standing up to him in a beautiful scene. Though the black humor and hallucinatory qualities of the film might turn some viewers off, the solid acting keeps the whole production grounded.
The film is also helped by the excellent Hitchcock (Blu-ray) release. The 2.35:1/1080p AVC-encoded image is tremendous. Shot digitally, the film retains an unsurprising amount of clarity and sharpness of detail. Color saturation is great, almost striking at times because of the fact that Psycho is so familiar in black and white. No compression artefacts or digital tampering mar the image either. The teensiest bit of noise in some darker interiors is the only thing that keeps this from being a picture-perfect presentation of the film. Danny Elfman's score is similarly well represented in this DTS-HD 5.1 track. Dialogue is of course perfectly clear throughout, but it's Elfman's score that provides the richness for the film's soundscape.
Extras kick off with a commentary featuring the film's director and writer having a wide-ranging discussion on the film, Hitchcock himself, casting and background. It's engaging and almost never quiet. We also get a making-of featurette that spend almost 30 minutes giving us the details of the production. There's also the requisite featurette on Hopkins' transformation into the famous director. Five short featurettes give us a peek at the recording of the score, a discussion of the film's story, a brief peek at the cast, info Hitchcock's relationship with Alma, and former colleagues reminiscing about the Master of Suspense. The director also offers his cell-phone camera behind-the-scenes footage, and a single deleted scene. The film's trailer and an anti-texting PSA featuring footage from the film round out the disc. A DVD as well as a Digital Copy of the film are also included.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Hitchcock bears little relationship to the reality of the making-of Psycho. There's no real evidence that Alma was ever unfaithful to Hitchcock, or that Alfred himself saw Ed Gein. Some of the bones of the story have a basis in reality, but the meat of this script is as fantastic as anything in Hitch's films. Nitpicky fans of Hitchcock's work will likely pick up on all of that, which may make this flick hard to watch.
Hitchcock is a well-acted and interestingly conceived take on the making of one of Alfred Hitchcock's enduring masterpieces. Though it's not particularly faithful to history, it is a fast-paced and colorful story about some of the machinations behind Psycho. Fans of the actors and casual Hitchcock enthusiasts should at least give this flick a rental, while the strong Hitchcock (Blu-ray) release makes it easy to recommend to fans for a purchase.
It's no Psycho, but Hitchcock is not guilty.
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