Indisputably, Alfred Hitchcock is one of the greatest suspense filmmakers in cinematic history. Today, however, his notorious obsessions with his blonde leading ladies garner just as much attention as his films do. Two movies detailing his directorial tendencies and personal struggles have been released this year. HBO’s made-for-TV movie “The Girl” and the feature film “Hitchcock” are fairly similar. In “The Girl”, Hitchcock is depicted as a controlling, jealous, sexual deviant. While the same characteristics are present in “Hitchcock,” his behavior is less reprehensible and more something you’d expect from a frisky 60-year-old man. Unlike “The Girl,” “Hitchcock” isn’t disturbing. Rather, it’s a farce that’s enjoyable because of great performances from Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren.
With the release of “North by Northwest,” 60-year-old Alfred Hitchcock’s (Anthony Hopkins) career has peaked. Even after earning both commercial and critical success, Hitchcock is not content. Soon, he’s on the prowl for his next picture. He stumbles upon Robert Bloch’s novel “Psycho.” Almost immediately, Hitchcock is determined to make this his next film.
Unfortunately, its dark, perverted subject matter forces Hitchcock to fund the film on his own by mortgaging his Hollywood Hills mansion, much to the dismay of his wife Alma (Helen Mirren). With Alma’s help, Hitchcock begins to put together his film, hiring Janet Leigh (Scarlett Johansson) as the film’s lead Marion and getting past the censors. However, Hitchcock’s success and infatuation with his starlets soon drives a wedge between him and Alma, just as production for “Psycho” is underway.
“Hitchcock” hinges on the performances from Hopkins and Mirren. Without Hopkins and Mirren, the movie is an unexceptional biopic better suited for TV. From his stout figure to his plump pout, Hopkins transforms into Hitchcock. His dry, naughty sense of humor and child-like demeanor helps to soften Hitchcock’s well-known persona. Rather than reprimand Hitchcock’s actions, such as having a peephole put in Vera Miles’ (Jessica Biel) dressing room or drinking and eating heavily, you let him get with it because he doesn’t know any better.
Mirren is the movie’s rock. As Alma, she’s selfless and strong, which complements Hitchcock’s stubbornness nicely. However, as she becomes dissatisfied with her role as Mrs. Hitchcock, she begins to entertain a different role as an aspiring screenwriter and possible adulterer. Unfortunately, this is when “Hitchcock” started to lose me. Up until this point, the movie is about the collaboration between Hitchcock and Alma on “Psycho.” Once she begins spending more time away from the Hitch and the film set, the film loses its footing. Even after the two have reconciled, “Hitchcock” doesn’t possess the same momentum it had at the beginning of the film when “Psycho” was first pitched.
For me, biopics are either a hit or miss. Ones that simply chronicle the life of its star are better suited for TV. However, biopics like “Lincoln” and “Frost/Nixon” are successful because they’re about much more than the title characters. Whether it’s abolishing slavery or upholding one’s journalistic integrity, the stakes are high and the tension is palpable. This is something that “Hitchcock” lacks.