Movie Review: An Actor’s Best Friend is His Director

I love movies about making movies. When I heard last year the film Hitchcock, starring Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren, was about one of my favorite directors making Psycho, one of my favorite films, I couldn’t wait to go see it.

Unfortunately, because I live in a small town surrounded by even smaller towns the movie never played locally. The negative reviews and lack of promotion made me quickly realize I’d have to wait to see it until it came out on DVD. When Redbox finally got a copy in to rent, I could see the reason for some of the negativity, however much of the criticism was not entirely warranted.

As I said earlier, Hitchcock is about the making of Psycho and the director’s (Hopkins) difficulty with attaining funding, clashes with movie executives over casting and the story itself and, ultimately, for distribution. Fortunately for us, “Hitch” (as he liked to be called by friends) had final approval on everything – something very rare unless you are as established a filmmaker as Hitchcock. The final product was delivered to audiences around the world and is hailed as one of the Master of Suspense’s greatest achievements.

The film also focuses on the exasperating relationship between Hitch and his devoted wife Alma Reville (Mirren), who worked as a consultant and re-writer on most of her husband’s films. As is usually the case, the best thing about the movie is Helen Mirren. Not simply because she has proven her worth as an incredible actress, but also because her character here is the most elusive. She is not her husband (who the entire world knows) or the actors in Psycho (whom we have some vague recognition of). Alma always stood behind the scenes, never in the spotlight. From what I’ve read about Hitchcock, she preferred it that way. Because the audience never saw much of Alma in the public eye, Mirren has the advantage to act any way she wishes and the majority of people in the audience wouldn’t think anything amiss.

The problems with the movie mostly manifest in the comparisons we make between the actors playing actors. Scarlett Johansson plays Janet Leigh and neither looks nor sounds like the real actress. James D’Arcy plays Anthony Perkins and while the resemblance is uncanny, I can’t help but feel D’ Arcy just watched Psycho a dozen times and decided this was how Perkins acted in real life. Because these actors portray minor characters in the movie, their performance does not distract too much. This then leads to Anthony Hopkins, who is obviously a tremendous actor. However, this turns out to be one of the few times I think I’ve ever watched a movie where only about half the time I believed him as the character. It was strange seeing him in makeup that oddly made him look exactly like the title character and then not at all in the span of two minutes.

I have no doubt director Sacha Gervais is a fan of his subject (what filmmaker isn’t), but it seems he neglected to read some of the major biographies available (including the most definitive by Donald Spoto). Instead, it seems he read the more scandal-ridden works that only focus on Hitchcock’s obsessiveness, both with his pictures and his blonde leading ladies.

Still, Hitchcock was not a bad movie. It just was not a very good one. It had potential, but didn’t live up to the expectations one would have about the subject. There’s a humorous closing scene where Hopkins is speaking directly into the camera stating that he is now trying to find his next project. Suddenly he is visited by a fowl creature that perches on his shoulder. There were a few other moments like this throughout the movie. I just wish there were more of them.

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