The world premiere of Hitchcock took place Thursday night at the famous Grauman’s Chinese Theater on Hollywood Boulevard, serving as the opening film of the AFI Film Festival. Before the screening, director Sacha Gervasi stood in front of a packed house — which quickly became choked up by the director’s emotional display — speaking about the support Fox Searchlight gave the debut director. (Gervasi lovingly called Fox Searchlight “filmmakers disguised as a studio.”) It was a heartfelt moment that was followed by a video clip of Hitchcock co-stars Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren — who are currently in London working on only their second film together Red 2 — recounting their experience starring as the legendary director and his beloved wife Alma, respectively. The short video clip closed with Mirren thanking the audience for attending the screening and Hopkins, in his best Hitchcock impression, bidding the audience the classic, “Good evening.” The lights went down and the film began.
Hitchcock is a hugely entertaining and riveting account of the making of the classic horror film Psycho and the behind-the-scenes machinations of bringing the controversial film to the big screen in the early late 1950s/early ’60s. However, the actual making of the film Psycho serves mostly as a fascinating backdrop for the film to explore the intricate, complex, and challenging relationship between the brilliant yet tortured genius Hitchcock and his adoring, equally brilliant and often neglected wife Alma. Based on the excellent book Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho by Stephen Rebello with a taut screenplay by John J. McLaughlin, the film perfectly captures the mood of the early ’60s and the challenges of bringing the very controversial book Psycho by Robert Bloch — with its then very taboo themes of transvestitism, incest, and overt sexuality — to the big screen. Ralph Macchio of Karate Kid fame, in an interesting bit of casting, plays the neurotic Psycho screenwriter Joe Stefano.
Beyond the intrigue associated with simply getting the movie made (one example: Paramount studio boss Barney Balaban, played by Richard Portnow, so hated the idea of making the movie that he would not finance the picture), the film also explores the complicated relationship between “Hitch” and his beautiful female stars. Vera Miles (Jessica Biel) is singled out for poor treatment (and given a pretty thankless supporting role in Psycho) because she dared to chose having a child and family instead of allowing the director to “make her a star” when she declined the lead role in Vertigo (a role that went to Kim Novak). However, Janet Leigh, who is portrayed brilliantly by Scarlett Johansson (in a nuanced and striking performance), is presented as a woman who knows exactly how to handle the temperamental director and their relationship is perhaps the most perfectly uncomplicated in the film.
In the final analysis, it is the relationship between Alma and “Hitch” that holds the movie together; Hopkins is as brilliant as he’s ever been and creates an indelible portrait of the legendary director — he will certainly add this to his impressive list of iconic chracterizations. His mannerisms, voice and larger-than-life physical presence are manifested brilliantly in the transformation of the actor who perfectly channels the spirit, the essence and the well-known persona of Alfred Hitchcock, one of cinema’s most famous directors. Mirren’s performance is an absolute showstopper, with her quiet resolve and unwavering admiration for her husband’s talent simultaneously comingled with her feelings of disdain for his ill treatment of her and his lustful yearnings toward his beautiful young female stars. The essential beauty of Hitchcock is fully realized when the pair emotionally, romantically, and touchingly reconnect by putting their differences aside and work in earnest on the fledgling production together. Ultimately, Hitchcock presents a portrait of the truly deep love between Alma and Hitch tempered, tested and strengthened throughout the years and ultimately reinvigorated through their collaboration in making Psycho the massive financial, critical and cultural success it would become.
The highly anticipated biopic Hitchcock directed by Sacha Gervasi, features an all-star cast including Hopkins as Alfred Hitchcock, Mirren as his wife Alma Reville, Johansson as actress Janet Leigh, James D’Arcy as actor Anthony Perkins, Biel as actress Vera Miles, Portnow as Paramount Studio boss Barney Balaban, Kurtwood Smith as the Director of The Production Code Administration, Michael Wincott as serial killer Ed Gein, Macchio as Psycho screenwriter Joe Stefano, and Michael Stuhlbarg as Lew Wasserman. The director of photography is the brilliant cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth (son of legendary “Blade Runner” DP Jordan Cronenweth) and the music score is courtesy of Danny Elfman. Producers include Ivan Reitman and Tom Pollack. A Fox Searchlight release.
[Image Credit: Suzanne Tenner/Fox Searchlight]