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Review: 'Hitchcock' more psyche than 'Psycho'

By Michelle F. Solomon, Contributing writer
Published On: Dec 07 2012 11:12:23 AM CST
Anthony Hopkins, Scarlett Johansson in Hitchcock

Fox Searchlight Pictures

With a prosthetic belly and double chin, Anthony Hopkins plays Alfred Hitchcock in a fat suit, but quickly the false face melts away. Hopkins is Hitch and he's determined to make "Psycho" for more reasons than plunging a knife into Janet Leigh.

It's a fascinating tale that takes a slice out of the life of the master of macabre and his maniacal obsession with the creation of "Psycho." Running parallel to the filmmaker's desire to make his last movie with Paramount Pictures something that has more of a bang than a whimper ("North by Northwest" is referenced frequently in "Hitchcock" disdainfully), is Hitchcock's personal life, and, his personal demons.

Throughout, he has a running conversation with his alter ego, inspiration for "Psycho" and real-life serial killer Ed Gein (Michael Wincott), whenever things get confusing or tough. At the soul of the film, too, is his relationship with Alma Reville (Helen Mirren), his wife and the unsung hero, who, more often than not, rescues Hitchcock, not only from himself including his penchant for sweets, but is a whip at rewriting a script, and also knows how to artfully edit a film. She was his collaborator, but went unnoticed and unacknowledged.

Mirren and Hopkins together are pure magic. Playing a couple that has weathered many storms, the seas have now become extremely choppy. Alma is beginning to find solace with a softer, gentler Hollywood type, Whitfield Cook, a screenwriter who wants Alma to collaborate with him. Meanwhile, Hitchcock's infamous leading ladies are coolly played by Scarlett Johansson as Leigh and Jessica Biel as Vera Miles. Toni Collette is Hitchcock's secretary and gopher girl, Peggy.

The "Hitchcock" screenplay by John McLaughlin is based on Stephen Rebello's book, "Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of 'Psycho.'" Director Sacha Gervasi creates a film that explores the psyche of one of the greatest directors of all time, while using the characters that encompass Hitchcock's world to reflect the agony of his aging, rejection and insecurities. Yet, it's filled with the wit and wry humor of Hitchcock, which he used plenty of times in his films and television dramas to draw audiences in to his prickly plots.

The Hollywood of Hitchcock also becomes a secondary character, in the days of studio bosses and business lunches at The Brown Derby. Jeff Cronenweth's photography particularly shines here.

"Hitchcock" is deep, yet delightful and most definitely a good evening.