It's called “Hitchcock,” but director Sasha Gervasi's droll and surprisingly cheerful insider Hollywood biopic might just as well have been titled “Alma Reville.”
Of course, every moviegoer worth his popcorn salt instantly recognizes the name of the great “Master of Suspense,” maker of such landmark pictures as “Rear Window,” “North By Northwest,” “The Birds,” “Psycho,” “Vertigo” (which recently replaced “Citizen Kane” in the top spot of “Sight and Sound's” prestigious poll of greatest movies) and so many others.
But beyond a savvy circle of film buffs, the name Alma Reville might be synonymous with anonymous. (For the record, she was Alfred Hitchcock's wife of more than 50 years and on his every film his muse, unerring script editor and most trusted — though unaccredited — confidante.)
Yet, in constructing this all-over-the-map biopic — ostensibly focusing on a slice of Hitchcock's career in 1959-60, during the tumultuous making of his most controversial and groundbreaking picture, “Psycho” — Gervasi (making his narrative feature debut after the success of his spiky rock-doc “Anvil! The Story of Anvil”) smartly keeps the strong-willed and largely unheralded Alma front and center.
More than anything, the story (scripted by “Black Swan” scribe John J. McLaughlin, drawing on Stephen Rebello's informative book “Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho”) casts its key focus on the tribulations of Alfred and Alma's long, sturdy marriage and their symbiotic working relationship. Hitch (played by a virtually unrecognizable Anthony Hopkins beneath layers of latex) clearly couldn't function without her, but Alma (Helen Mirren, cool and knowing) seemed content to stay behind the curtains while the great man took the bows.
One problem with Gervasi's movie is that it also tries with uneven results to be so many other things, too: an insider Hollywood expose of Hitch's battles with stingy Paramount honchos and pinched Production Code censors; a pop-psych peek into Hitch's Svengali obsession with his icy blonde stars (Grace Kelly, Kim Novak, Vera Miles and Tippi Hedren, among them); a highly speculative musing on Hitchcock's deepest, darkest demons; a nuts-and-bolts tutorial on the making of “Psycho” (but, oddly, without too much visual reference to the real film — due to legal restrictions).
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Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Scarlett Johansson, James D'Arcy. (Some violent images, sexual content and thematic material)