***1/2 (out of four)
“Why call it ‘Hitchcock?’” reads one thread on the IMDB page for “Hitchcock.” The answer: Because director Sacha Gervasi’s (“Anvil: The Story of Anvil”) deliciously entertaining tale about the making of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 classic “Psycho” also delicately creates a vivid portrait of the artist and his process.
Fortunately, “Hitchcock” is no glorified pat on Hitch’s back. In Anthony Hopkins’ performance—with mannerisms more successful than the makeup—the jealous and stubborn filmmaker holds many elements of the movie industry in contempt (“Style,” he notes, “is mere self-plagiarism”). He longs for the affections and loyalty of his leading ladies, including Janet Leigh (Scarlett Johansson) and Vera Miles (Jessica Biel), for whom Hitch clearly harbors a grudge.
He’s easily bruised, too. Whether lamenting a supporting actor’s performance or wondering about the nature of his wife Alma’s (Helen Mirren) relationship with her friend and writing collaborator, Whitfield Cook (Danny Huston), the great director’s bitterness rushes out of him as quickly as the secret satisfaction when he sneaks an alcoholic or culinary indulgence.
Working from a book by Playboy film critic Stephen Rebello, writer John J. McLaughlin (“Black Swan”) balances the built-in enjoyment of recalling the work of Hollywood icons (note “My Week with Marilyn”) with a more difficult-to-achieve need to capture why this particular story matters more than any other. In “Hitchcock,” there’s a clear sense of both a filmmaker’s inspiration and the many intangibles that hinder or enhance a production, from actors’ personal wells of experience to censors’ complaints to, in this case, the working relationship of Hitchcock and his wife. The film fully realizes Alma, and Mirren is terrific.
Oddly enough, “Hitchcock” has plenty in common with “Argo.” Both movies have fun with Hollywood and history and feature low-key but commanding presences leading rogue missions to accomplish something other decision makers don’t think can be done. While more modest, “Hitchcock” is also more deeply felt. Sure, at times it winks or smirks in ways that make the film a bit fluffier than it might have been. Yet the smile on your face, and the fond sense that you’ve seen a tale of a time when movies surprised and directors had countless tricks up their sleeves, should dismiss those concerns as swiftly as the opening of a shower curtain.
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