Despite its rather broad title, Hitchcock isn’t a biopic about the entire life or career of legendary filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock. Like the recent HBO movie The Girl, it focuses on the production of just one movie in Hitchcock’s extensive body of work, in this case the horror classic Psycho (the movie is based on Stephen Rebello’s book Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho). Also like The Girl, Hitchcock interprets the director’s career through the lens of his personal life, although at least here he gets a slightly more sympathetic portrayal.
As played by Anthony Hopkins under layers of prosthetics, Hitchcock is a dour, stubborn man whose single-mindedness helps him realize a brilliant vision even when almost no one around him is supportive. Hitchcock is best when it highlights the director’s artistic process and his skill at dealing with soulless studio functionaries, but director Sacha Gervasi and screenwriter John J. McLaughlin seem more interested in Hitchcock’s relationship with his long-suffering wife and unsung collaborator Alma (Helen Mirren). Hitchcock’s obsession with his leading ladies (here embodied by Scarlett Johansson as Janet Leigh and Jessica Biel as Vera Miles) gets equal billing with Alma’s flirtation with a charming writer (Danny Huston), but neither really amounts to much.
Worse are the filmmakers’ efforts to connect Hitchcock’s inner turmoil with the real-life inspiration for Psycho, serial killer Ed Gein. The dreams and fantasy sequences in which Hitchcock interacts with Gein (Michael Wincott) are jarring and ill-considered, especially given the relatively whimsical tone of the rest of the movie (Hopkins as Hitchcock opens and closes the film by speaking directly to the camera, as the filmmaker was known for doing on his TV series Alfred Hitchcock Presents).
The best moment in the movie comes toward the end, as Hitchcock is attending the first public showing of Psycho. He stands outside the theater during the infamous shower scene, effortlessly timing the audience’s reaction without even seeing them. It’s the culmination of the movie’s step-by-step depiction of how this iconic scene was created, and it deftly illustrates Hitchcock’s remarkable skill as a filmmaker. More of that, and less of the domestic squabbling, could have made Hitchcock a movie worthy of its namesake.