'Hitchcock' a surprising love story about legendary director and his collaborator wife

Two of cinema’s greatest actors have brought to life two movie icons: Anthony Hopkins as Alfred Hitchcock and Helen Mirren as his collaborator-wife, Alma Reville. “Hitchcock,” based on “Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho” by Stephen Rebello, is a charming little movie about love and marriage, with just a dash of serial murder thrown in for good measure.

Following the global success of “North by Northwest,” Alfred Hitchcock felt he needed to enter the 1960s with a groundbreaking film. Upon reading Robert Bloch’s “Psycho,” Hitchcock knew that an adaptation would shock his way to the top for a very long time, no matter the cost. And cost him, it did. “Hitchcock” follows the behind –the-scenes trials and tribulations of the director’s most famous film, his odyssey of self-financing a story about a cross-dressing serial killer and the censor bureau and studio’s fights against him.

But “Hitchcock” is about much more than just the making of “Psycho.” It’s a love story.

Here is an intimate affair between two artists and the importance of collaboration, creatively and in marriage. Both Alfred and Alma wanted the same things: to create and be loved. However, the two became blinded by their own ambitions and insecurities that their artistic creations become personally destructive.

It is well-known in the film world that Alma was Hitchcock’s most important collaborator. She consulted him on everything during the production, from re-writing scripts to casting to editing the film. She is as much a part of Hitchcock’s style as the director, and Helen Mirren perfectly captures that silent power. While Hopkins rambles on as the director struggles to stay afloat, its Mirren’s forceful presence that has the ultimate drawing power. The two actors are electric together. Every scene with them feels like an Oscars highlight clip.

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Watching Hopkins and Mirren transform into these characters is a must-see. While the movie is far from perfect, these two actors are perfect. Hopkins handles Hitchcock’s voice with physique with finesse and presents himself as both a menacing dictator and a vulnerable, lonely man. “Hitchcock” is hands-down one of Hopkins’ best performances.

Bio films are always at their best when they focus on one moment of the subject’s life, which “Hitchcock” does, making it an entertaining excerpt from a fascinating life. The film doesn’t cover Hitch’s entire life – those movies tend to get bogged down with too much history, dulling the final product. (“J. Edgar”, anyone?)

Occasionally throughout the film, Hitch lapses into mental visions of Ed Gein (Michael Wincott), the serial killer who inspired the Norman Bates character. Watching Hitch talk to this killer, reminiscent of Jack Torrance talking to the bartender in “The Shining,” is very distracting and absolutely unnecessary. The film holds itself perfectly fine without resorting to this cheap tactic to show Hitchcock’s darker side.

“Hitchcock” is also surprisingly funny. The humor comes in unexpected places, mostly when the volatile Hitchcock unloads insults on fellow movie stars and film makers. We even get a humorous glimpse of the then-controversial decision to show a toilet in a film for the first time. How far we’ve come.

The supporting cast is equally superb as Hopkins and Mirren. Scarlett Johansson becomes Janet Leigh, looking and sounding just like the beautiful “Psycho” star. Watching Johansson as Marion Crane driving to the Bates Motel is as surreal as it is exciting. Jessica Biel is a bitter Vivien Leigh, delivering the on-set warnings of Hitchcock’s notorious ego, and James D’Arcy is uncanny as the nervous and shy Anthony Perkins. The film also stars Toni Collette, Danny Huston and Michael Stuhlbarg.

The period details are on par with other historical films of the time. Director Sacha Gervasi puts us right into 1959 Hollywood with Judy Becker’s production design and Danny Elfman’s romantic and Herrmann-esque score.

Obviously, one should see “Psycho” before watching this “Hitchcock.” If you haven’t seen any of Hitchcock’s films, you should remedy that immediately. Though not having a Hitchcock reference won’t affect this film too much, especially when you have Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren delivering such commanding performances.