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Review: Anthony Hopkins as 'Hitchcock'

Genius or 'Psycho'? Anthony Hopkins shows that the iconic director was a bit of both

Director: Sacha Gervasi
Rating: PG-13. Running Time: 98 minutes
Stars: Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Scarlett Johansson

En español | Like many fine recent biographical films about historical figures — My Week With Marilyn, The Iron Lady, Hyde Park on Hudson and J. Edgar, to name a few — Hitchcock provides a vehicle for a stunning performance by its leading actor, in this case Anthony Hopkins as the English-born director Alfred Hitchcock. The film also offers moviegoers compelling explorations of grownup issues, including ageism in the workplace and the complexities of long-committed relationships.

See also: Anthony Hopkins discusses his role in Hitchcock

Anthony Hopkins, Hitchcock

Anthony Hopkins plays Alfred Hitchcock — Courtesy Fox Searchlight

The directorial debut of Sacha Gervasi, Hitchcock delves into the mind of the notorious filmmaker during a brief period in the second half of his career when, in 1959 after completing North by Northwest, he decided to depart from the suspense-thriller genre and to instead make the horror/slasher film Psycho, based on the novel by Robert Bloch.

Hitchcock is 60 as the film opens, and executives at Paramount Studios, as well as the Hollywood filmmaking community at large, have decided that his career is all but finished and refuse to back the project. Determined to prove them wrong, Hitchcock wins the support of his agent, Lew Wasserman (played by Michael Stuhlbarg, who also appears in this year's Lincoln and Seven Psychopaths. Hitch's long-suffering wife and story editor, Alma Reville (intriguingly portrayed by the extremely talented Helen Mirren), agrees to mortgage their Bel Air home to underwrite the $800,000 production.

As Hitch forges ahead with Psycho — pushing his leading lady Janet Leigh (played demurely by the voluptuous Scarlett Johansson) and conspiring to get around the ratings board despite the film's violent shower scene — we witness up close his psychological oddities and vulnerabilities, brought to the fore by the pressures of the project and his personal life. Fed up with his excesses (Hitchcock had a large appetite for both food and drink) and his flirtations with the young, blonde actresses he routinely employed, Alma begins spending time with a younger screenwriter named Whitfield Cook (Danny Huston of X-Men Origins: Wolverine). Hitch suspects she's having an affair, and the two enter into a struggle that will ultimately reveal their true loyalties. 

Hitchcock screenwriter John J. McLaughlin, who wrote Black Swan and knows something about building suspense, is at his best conveying the authentically strained but loving interactions between Hitch and Alma. He goes a bit over the top in speculating Hitch's true mental state, especially in scenes in which the director identifies with Ed Gein, the Wisconsin necrophiliac and mass murderer who was the inspiration for Bloch's Psycho.

Hopkins' on-screen transformation is remarkable, and not just because of his fantastic makeup and a very believable fat suit (he did not want to gain weight for the role). His facial expressions and speech patterns are astonishingly similar to those of Hitchcock himself. More so, his interactions with his costars — teasing toward Johansson, condescending with Jessica Biel (who plays Vera Miles, the leading lady who infuriated Hitchcock by getting pregnant during the production of Vertigo), boyish in the presence of Alma — allow viewers to understand at least part of his complicated character. Hopkins imbues his performance with all the frustrations one would expect a middle-aged talent to feel when, on the verge of making a career masterpiece, his colleagues are preparing to put him out to pasture.

The fascinating aspect of Hitchcock is interesting, but it's the combination of insightful character study and tender love story that makes the film ultimately fascinating.

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