It wouldn't have been a major surprise if Hitchcock had been an even campier mess than the laughably bad Lifetime Television biopic Liz & Dick, starring that rock 'em and sock 'em actress Lindsay Lohan.
In fact, the real surprise is just how soulful a film Hitchcock is in the hands of director Sacha Gervasi and co-leads Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren. Hopkins, of course, plays the legendary director whose wry delivery masked a rather devious personality and an absolutely brilliant cinematic mind. When Hopkins' criminally underseen film World's Fastest Indian came out, many called the film his finest work to date.
Audiences certainly didn't crowd the theaters, but those who did quite often agreed. While I was never quite in the camp that declared World's Fastest Indian Hopkins' best performance, I may very well be willing to go out on a limb for such a statement with his absolutely mesmerizing performance in Hitchcock.
Lindsay Lohan, are you watching?
It is possible to portray a character's quirks and foibles without turning them into a caricature of themself, a fact that has been seldom truer than it is with Hopkins as Hitchcock. The film is based upon Stephen Rebello's book Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho. The vast majority of the film centers around the period leading up to Hitchcock's Psycho, along with the actual production of the film that was turned down for financing by the studios and only distributed when Hitchcock himself financed the film.
Despite his popularity as a filmmaker, Hitchcock is a mysterious enough figure that the story in Hitchcock won't likely ring as overly familiar for most folks beyond the hardcore fans of the filmmaker and film history buffs. It's interesting to see how much of a struggle Hitchcock had in getting Psycho made despite his previous successes and solid reputation. It took one questionable film, the now considered masterpiece Vertigo, to impact Hitchcock's ability to do anything he wanted. The scenes of him investing himself, his money, his home and his very career in order to make a truly good horror film are among the best scenes as they reveal the passion for film that existed behind the mystery of the man.
As marvelous as Hopkins is, the film simply wouldn't be the same without the presence of Helen Mirren as Hitchcock's longtime companion Alma Reville. Hitchcock doesn't hold back in showing that Reville was in all likelihood as equally brilliant as Hitchcock himself, though she was trapped in a time and institution where women weren't allowed to be so. Hitchcock himself often seemed to take her for granted, and it's that battle between her own hopes and dreams and her devotion to Hitchcock that adds such a deep emotional resonance to Mirren's wonderful performance.
Scarlett Johansson does a terrific job here as Janet Leigh, Hitchcock's lead actress in Psycho who was killed off in the film's first thirty minutes (sorry if that's a spoiler. Hey, you've had 40+ years to see the film). Jessica Biel, a hit and miss actress who had me worried in this casting, redeems herself quite nicely as Vera Miles, a Hitchcock fixation who had the audacity to get herself pregnant and ruin Hitchcock's almost disturbing, yet unrealized fantasies. An almost unrecognizable Toni Collette is terrific as Hitchcock's longtime secretary.
At first thought, Danny Elfman seems an odd choice to score the film but the choice pays off greatly with a delightfully quirky, yet touching score. Judy Becker's production design is top knotch and manages to evoke memories of Hitchcock's films without mocking or caricaturizing them. D.P. Jeff Cronenweth keeps the lensing stylishly retro in presentation.
Hitchcock may not be a film for everyone, but fans of Helen Mirren and Anthony Hopkins would be foolish to miss award-worthy performances by both performers. The film may not leave the strongest impact of any film in 2012, but for what it's trying to accomplish it's a beautifully constructed and immensely satisfying day at the movies.