“Hitchcock” is a movie lover’s movie — a fun, free-wheeling look at the creation of a classic movie and a tender profile of the little-known life of a Hollywood legend.
Of course, the legend is Alfred Hitchcock, and director Sacha Gervasi and screenwriter John J. McLaughlin catch the “Master of Suspense” at a suspenseful crossroads. As the movie begins, it’s 1959 and Hitchcock (played by Anthony Hopkins) is coming off the success of his latest film, “North by Northwest,” and casting about for his next project.
The studios, being studios, offer him variations on the tried-and-true. (He rejects a pitch to adapt Ian Fleming’s “Casino Royale,” with Cary Grant as James Bond, saying, “I’ve already made that movie. It’s called ‘North by Northwest.’ ”) Instead, he becomes fascinated with Robert Bloch’s novel about a murderer, based on the real-life case of killer Ed Gein. The novel’s title: Psycho.
The studios are repulsed by the idea, saying they won’t bankroll what is essentially a schlocky B-grade horror movie. But Hitchcock persists, arguing that horror movies are deemed unworthy because a really good director has never made one.
Hitchcock has support in his corner: his agent, Lew Wasserman (Michael Stuhlbarg), and, most important, his wife, Alma Reville (Helen Mirren). Alma is Hitch’s toughest critic, best sounding board, shrewdest editor and smartest casting director (she suggests Hitchcock cast Janet Leigh — smartly played here by Scarlett Johansson — based on her performance in Orson Welles’ “Touch of Evil”). She also has endured decades of Hitchcock’s obsessions over blond starlets and the slights that come with life in the great man’s shadow.
Mirren is utterly winning as Alma, even though she’s saddled with the movie’s silliest melodrama. This involves Alma, feeling left out of Hitchcock’s world, spending time on a writing project with an old acquaintance, screenwriter Whitfield Cook (Danny Huston) — who may have amorous intentions toward her.
The best parts of “Hitchcock” come when Gervasi (whose previous credit is the rock documentary “Anvil! The Story of Anvil”) immerses us in the life on the set. Johansson is joined by solid performances from James D’Arcy (as the nervous and deeply closeted Anthony Perkins) and Jessica Biel (as co-star Vera Miles, a former Hitchcock favorite reduced to second-tier status). Movie fans will gobble up the rich backstage details of filming “Psycho” and Hitchcock’s efforts to get it past the censors. And Gervasi has embedded sly references to eight Hitchcock classics, just for the heck of it.
Mostly, “Hitchcock” lets Sir Anthony Hopkins play while we watch. His impersonation of the director’s avuncular cadences is dead-on, his chemistry with Mirren is charming, and his connection to Ed Gein (who also was an inspiration for “The Silence of the Lambs”) adds a layer of ironic wit. Somewhere, Hitch is probably enjoying a good chuckle.
Anthony Hopkins impersonates the great director in a behind-the-scenes drama loaded with treats for movie lovers.
Where • Broadway Centre Cinemas.
When • Opens today.
Rating • PG-13 for some violent images, sexual content and thematic material.
Running time • 96 minutes.