The main thought behind the new biopic Hitchcock is something everyone already knows: Behind every successful man stands a woman. And for those fans, followers and biographers of Alfred Hitchcock, this comes as no surprise.
Anthony Hopkins seems to be having great fun playing the one-time “Master of Suspense,” the director of numerous classic movies. Helen Mirren plays his wife, Alma Reville, who wrote, co-wrote and rewrote — usually without attribution — many of her husband’s screenplays, while also supplying an invaluable hand on virtually all his projects.
Her contributions have always been known and recognized, but now at least they make it onto the screen in an entertaining work that concentrates on the time leading up to the release of Hitchcock’s Psycho. And it’s a good place to start, as director Sacha Gervasi ably directs from John J. McLaughlin’s screenplay based on Stephen Rebello’s nonfiction book about that period.
As the film begins, Hitch has just finished the successful North by Northwest but feels anxious about any future project. He reads Robert Bloch’s novel and decides to film it despite the objections of Alma, his assistant Peggy Robertson (Toni Collette), super-agent Lew Wasserman (Michael Stuhlbarg), Paramount studio head Barney Balaban (Richard Portnow) and, mainly, chief Production Code censor Geoffrey Shurlock (Kurtwood Smith).
Hitch wants to indulge in the less-than-respectable horror genre: “What if someone made a really good horror movie?” he asks. To his annoyance, when approaching the now iconic shower scene, he finds himself arguing with the censors about whether a toilet can be shown on screen. He sinks some of his own money into the project, and, when delays start to mount, his irascible side emerges.
During it all, Alma Reville works on the screenplay as well as others, while putting up with her husband’s notorious infatuation with his female stars — here, Janet Leigh (Scarlett Johansson) and Vera Miles (Jessica Biel). When the finished product still lacks polish, Reville teams with her husband for some needed nips and tucks.
When first seen, Anthony Hopkins sounds and moves like Hitchcock but doesn’t look too much like him. But as the movie progresses, Hopkins’ habitation of the complete Hitchcock physicality becomes more obvious, with his slow movements, protruding lower lip and incessant deep breathing.
The always capable Helen Mirren shares the spotlight, while everyone else supports Hopkins and Hitch — which is just the way he would have wanted it.
Rated PG-13, 97 minutes. Opens Friday at the Angelika Plano and Dallas.