Hopkins, Mirren deliver frightfully good time in ‘Hitchcock’

Fans of the “Master of Suspense” know Alfred Hitchcock from his iconic films such as “Rear Window,” “Vertigo,” “The Birds” and “Psycho.” It is Hitchcock’s own innovative, but also infamous, approach to these films that creates the drama of  the new film “Hitchcock.” With the production of “Psycho” as the backdrop, Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins) and his wife, Alma Reville (Helen Mirren), work with and against each
other simultaneously.

Even though “Hitch” relies on Alma for creative advice, he rarely gives her any credit. He also does not attempt to hide his attraction to his leading lady, Janet Leigh (Scarlett Johansson). Alma responds by throwing her energy into a collaboration with a former protégé, much to Hitch’s disapproval.

Hitchcock fans will be satisfied with the jokes and allusions to his movies, but the characterization of his relationship with Alma is the most intriguing element of the film. Hitchcock is a complicated man — both a genius and an overgrown boy — managed with motherly discipline and affection by Alma. Their dynamic highlights what makes “Psycho” terrifying — not the infamous shower scene but rather the corruption of the relationship between mother and son.

When Hitchcock and Alma seek to repair their personal lives, Alma asks why Hitchcock insists on pursuing such a risky project. He explains that he wants to return to his earlier years when nothing was certain and everything was terrifying.

Hopkins and Mirren deliver the excellence expected of these seasoned veterans. Hopkins does a fantastic job at mixing Hitch’s sly humor with boyish emotion. There’s a delightful moment near the finale when Hitch listens to the audience’s screams during the shower scene and dances as though he is conducting a symphony. Mirren’s performance is equally skilled, capturing the frustration of the unappreciated wife with quiet poignancy.

The supporting cast, including Johansson, Toni Collette and James D’Arcy, hold their own against the Academy Award-winning hero and heroine who dominate the screen. D’Arcy’s skills are the least utilized, but his brief screen time as Anthony Perkins demands attention. One of the best scenes in the film, in which Hitch explains the use of a peephole, is driven by Anthony’s awkwardness and question: “But why does he watch her take her clothes off?”

The only disappointing element of “Hitchcock” is that it delivers exactly what is to be expected. The performances are good. The shots and writing are skilled. The makeup is excellent for the exception of Johansson’s abominably fake wig, but there are no surprises. With a star-studded cast and award season growing closer, the audience should expect nothing less than sublimity, which unfortunately the film does not provide. However, it succeeds in entertaining and telling the fascinating true story about one of the greatest filmmakers in history. And as Hitch states in the film, “Well, that’s very good.”

A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Nov. 19 print edition. Alex Pastron is a contributing writer. Email her at film@nyunews.com.

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