Despite bringing Wisconsin serial killer Ed Gein into the proceedings as a fanciful one-man Greek chorus, haunting Alfred Hitchcock's dreams as he prepares the Gein-inspired "Psycho," the biopic "Hitchcock" presents a gentle and forgiving view of Hitchcock's penchant for playing Svengali and, depending on the source being cited, possible thwarted Lothario to more than one leading lady.
The film stars Anthony Hopkins as Hitchcock, Helen Mirren as his wife and creative collaborator Alma Reville and Scarlett Johansson as Janet Leigh, the star of "Psycho." At the end of "Hitchcock" comes an epilogue title card suggesting that after his riskiest film to date, a permanent blot on the safety and reputation of the average motel shower, the Hitchcocks' marriage was never better. And he never bugged a contract blonde again. Which is amusing, given the famously tense and arguably harassing relationship between Hitchcock and Tippi Hedren on the two films following "Psycho": "The Birds" and "Marnie." Currently on heavy HBO rotation is another Hitchcock biopic, "The Girl," about that very relationship, cast in far more sinister tones than "Hitchcock" would dream of suggesting.
I prefer "The Girl," not because of its salaciousness but because it gets at something underneath the great (truly, great) director's skin. Toby Jones in "The Girl" doesn't look a great deal like Hitchcock, but he gets the voice right, brilliantly, and builds the performance from there. Hopkins, on the other hand, does all right with the voice as Hitchcock in "Hitchcock" and sports a lot more face-changing makeup than Jones does. It's a droll surface portrayal. The script by John J. McLaughlin (based on Stephen Rebello's book) and the direction by Sacha Gervasi throw all the dramatic weight and Oscar-baiting comebacks to Mirren's long-suffering Alma.
Even in a fictionalized vein, the making of "Psycho," which Hitchcock had to self-finance (much to his fiscal benefit in the long run), makes for a dutifully engaging backstage story. Jessica Biel plays Vera Miles, shunned by the director for the sin of getting pregnant around the time of "Vertigo," which was to star Miles, not Kim Novak. Danny Huston oozes what he usually oozes — basso profundo weaselocity — as Alma's confidant and writing partner Whitfield Cook, whom this film suggests nearly had one off with Alma. There are little digs at "Psycho" co-stars John Gavin ("plywood is more expressive") and a tremulous Anthony Perkins. And there are bizarre omissions, such as the absence from "Hitchcock" of Hitchcock's only child, Patricia, who was, in fact, in "Psycho."
Scarfing down tins of fois gras at the fridge in the swank mansion he mortgages against his bloody, disreputable new project, Hopkins' Hitch may not reveal inner demons. He's entertaining, as is Mirren. It's fun to watch them elevate a rosy assessment of a first-rate popular artist and the woman who never got the credit she deserved.