★★★ (out of 5 stars)
Opening Regal Winter Park Friday, Dec. 7
In 1960, Psycho made audiences scream at its unprecedented style and horror. Fifty-two years later, audiences may be screaming again, but this time at the exaggerations and distortions in the new Alfred Hitchcock biopic.
Director Sacha Gervasi apparently read Stephen Rebello's great nonfiction work, Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho – a true account of the making of the original film, complete with fascinating details of casting, screenplay revisions and shooting that give insight into the creative mind of the director – and decided his audience wasn't smart enough to appreciate it. Instead, he asked writer John McLaughlin to fashion something different: a partially imagined glimpse into the troubled marriage and psyche of Sir Alfred.
This glimpse may have some basis in fact, as Rebello himself was called in to help write Hitchcock's screenplay. However, it clearly was not drawn from Rebello's original book, as, astonishingly, the book makes no mention of Hitch's marital or psychological issues at all. Even more amazing is that the book makes only three or four passing references to his wife, Alma, who is such a central character in the new film that a better title would have been Alma and Alfred. Yes, Alma was Hitch's life partner and a talented editor in her own right, worthy of respect. (In fact, when viewing footage of the shower scene, she was the only one to notice that Janet Leigh exhaled when she was lying dead on the floor.) However, the focus placed on Alma – not to mention the speculation of her inappropriate involvement with a male friend – is misguided.
Further distorting Hitch's legacy is the film's claim that Alma essentially took charge of the editing process for Psycho because, following principal photography, the movie was mediocre at best. Nothing could be further from the truth, according to Rebello himself, who wrote that only script supervisor Marshal Schlom, editor George Tomasini and perhaps artist Saul Bass joined Hitch to cut the film.
But what if you aren't a devout fan of Psycho and just want to be entertained by a well-produced – if slightly inaccurate – story? Is Hitchcock worth the investment? The answer is a clear yes, but that's not surprising, considering the fascinating subject and the unusual combination of Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren and Scarlett Johansson.
Hopkins, as Hitch, is at the top of his game, while Mirren is mesmerizing as Alma, despite not looking a thing like her. Even the hopelessly dull Johansson shines in the juicy role of Janet Leigh. And despite the aforementioned faults, we do get occasional glimpses into the filming process, though not a single line of correct dialogue from Psycho is used – probably because producers couldn't get permission from Universal, Paramount or the Screen Writers Guild.
In the end, we're left with an enjoyable and stylish trifle – one that most audiences will enjoy, but that Hitch himself would have abhorred. It's a shame that instead of focusing on a cerebral affair – one man's love of film – Gervasi instead focused on tawdry affairs of the heart.