Surprise, surprise - "Hitchcock" is a love story.
This late 2012 film about the making of "Psycho" finally arrived in Central Pa., playing for a few days last week at the Campus in Lewisburg; though it seems an unlikely candidate for a Valentine's Day review, "Hitchcock" effectively foregrounds relations between the great director and his longtime wife.
Loyal, quiet and capable, Alma Reville spent most of her life in the shadow of her more famous husband.
Anthony Hopkins as Alfred Hitchcock is shown in a scene from “Hitchcock.”?
Only late in life did the Master of Suspense acknowledge his profound reliance on her - especially her sharp eye for scripts and continuity errors. (She alone famously noticed that a corpse had blinked in "Psycho.")
Calling attention to the vital role she played in his life, "Hitchcock" might have pleased its namesake - even though it takes some liberties with fact.
I've read virtually every word written on the legendary 1960 shocker (11 books - can you believe it?), and I don't recall anything about the kind of marital tension - or eventual reconciliation - that forms the backbone of "Hitchcock's" storyline.
Yet if we spot the film some leeway to create drama from the oft-mundane process of shooting a movie, "Hitchcock" emerges as engaging, thoughtful, funny, touching and beautifully acted.
Anthony Hopkins is at his best as Hitch, having developed quite a flair for real-life roles (Nixon, Picasso, Capt. Bligh, John Quincy Adams - and in the near future, Methuselah and Hemingway).
Hitchcock's slow drawl and Buddha-like composure are nicely counterbalanced by fears that he is washed up, and that "Psycho" - which he financed himself - would fail.
Helen Mirren is spectacular; just as Alma grounded Hitchcock, this sane, strong sometimes wistful wife gives "Hitchcock" a human foundation, yielding moments of warmth and compassion surprising in a film about making a thriller - and not a very tender-hearted thriller at that.
(I should point out that it takes a while to adjust to Mirren, since the real Mrs. Hitch was astoundingly petite - terms that do not apply to her buxom portrayer.)
Playing "Psycho" star Janet Leigh, Scarlett Johansson brilliantly reflects the joy this actress always reported in working with a director whom others complained about.
Also spot-on is Jessica Alba as costar Vera Miles; and watching James D'Arcy's Anthony Perkins is like seeing lost outtakes from the 53-year-old classic.
Oddly, though, there is little of "Psycho" itself in this film - no black-and-white footage, no carefully re-created sets or scenes; even the snippets of dialog are completely altered, suggesting that "Hitchcock's" makers couldn't get rights to the original material.
The film also develops a subplot involving Hitch's obsession with killer Ed Gein, the basis for Norman Bates; this would work better if the script had somehow tied it to the main storyline about Mr. and Mrs.
There aren't many films about the making of an actual film (rather than a fictional one, as in "Singin' in the Rain" or "The Stunt Man"); "Hitchcock" takes a respectable spot near the top of that exclusive list.
*** (out of four)
The film is rated PG-13 for mature content.