Having just released North by Northwest to enormous acclaim, filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock is asked if now, at the age of 60, it’s time for him to retire. Clearly miffed, he sets out instead to find something newer, better, to challenge him—and his audience. And so begins Sacha Gervasi’s Hitchcock, in which Anthony Hopkins, laboring under a fat suit and some facial prostheses, tries valiantly to give us a sneak peek at what made the director so brilliant, fascinating and, yes, impossible.
It’s always interesting to get inside the mindset of a creative genius, but sometimes, as with Hitchcock, it doesn’t succeed quite as well as we’d like. The problem with this movie (which, admittedly, is great fun and not without strong moments) is that Gervasi and his screenwriter, Stephen Rebello, seek to find too much of what made Hitch tick in his screenplays and directorial decisions. We end up knowing Hitchcock as a great filmmaker who was insecure and controlling, had a thing for blondes and booze, and relied heavily on the good sense and great talent of his wife Alma Reville (Helen Mirren).
Despite his best effort, Hopkins can’t quite bring his “character” to larger life than the script’s reliance on showing him as a peeping Tom and midnight nosher. Nevertheless, the movie offers many other things worth seeing, largely Mirren’s knowing turn as Alma. Her evocations of sensitivity and vulnerability—she, an aging woman amid the youth and beauty on her husband’s film sets—are quietly stunning. (So, too, is the moment in which she rips her crotchety husband a well-deserved new one.) Also quite good is Scarlett Johansson, whose Janet Leigh isn’t just eerily on the mark, but also displays practical good sense in dealing with the notorious director. There are moments throughout Hitchcock when Gervasi employs the deadpan humor of The Trouble With Harry, one of Hitch’s lesser known films, to good effect, but throughout, the title character remains an enigma, a series of tics and bad habits more than a fleshed-out being.