Hitchcock is the director, but Mirren is the star

hitchcock

Hitchcock – 2012

Director Sasha Gervasi
Starring Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Scarlett Johansson, Toni Collette, Danny Houston, Jessica Biel, James D’Arcy
Screenplay John J. McLaughlin based on the book Alfred Hitchock and the Making of Psycho by Stephen Rebello

Psycho is one of the most celebrated films of all time.  It came after one of the greatest financial successes of the career of its director, Alfred Hitchcock, North by Northwest.  It is hard to fathom, then, that there was any problems in making any film that he wanted to make.  Watching the intro to Hitchcock, with his take on Ed Gein, it’s clear that Hopkins understands the humor, pacing and diction of the master.  Still, every time I see him speak, it looks like he’s about to ask for Fava beans.

Playing his wife, Alma Reville, we have Helen Mirren doing what she does best, which is to steal every scene she shares with anyone.  That is hard to do with Hopkins, even harder when he’s playing the title character to a tee.  It most definitely helps that there is such a remarkable story to tell.  Finding out that they were such a great team throughout each other’s careers was a surprise, but that they decided to move away from that working relationship for Psycho made for a unique tension.

As he struggles with his own feelings of inadequacy, she is venturing into a co-writing a screenplay with someone (Huston) that Hitchcock does not respect or trust.   This coincides with his overwhelming obsessions with both the true subject of the book, Ed Gein (Wincott), as well his long-standing (and somewhat creepy) quest to find the perfect leading lady.  His decision to work again with Vera Miles (Biel) who he has a history with, and its effect on his choice of Janet Leigh (Johansson) weighs heavily on his mind, as well as Alma’s.

The performances throughout the film are exceptionally low-key.  I have never enjoyed Biel more, and Huston has rarely been more slithery.  James D’Arcy is right on target with his fidgety Perkins.  The real star of the movie is Mirren, though.  Her speech in the bathroom when Hitchcock thinks he has her cornered is the key to the entire film.  She is such a dominant force in every movie she is in at this point.  It takes one of equal talent and skill, like Hopkins, just to keep up with her.  Toni Collette sits back and takes it all in, the way any good assistant would.

Gervasi does a good job with his subjects as well.  The mystery surrounding Hitchcock and his women is not so much unveiled, as experienced.  So much is revealed in the simplest gaze and gesture.  The touching symmetry of Hitch and Alma is shown so beautifully, it gives a deeper appreciation for his films in knowing that it was not just him with all the talent.  It was both of them.  And they were in love: before, during and even after the shower scene.

(****1/2 out of *****)

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