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'Hitchcock' shines with clever dialogue, strong cast

Fox Searchlight

By Carly Keyes, Daily Arts Writer
Published January 23, 2013

As an illuminating insight into the life of one of cinema’s most revered directors, “Hitchcock” is a movie about moviemaking — how appropriate. It’s the story of Alfred Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins, “360”) and arguably his most indelible creation, “Psycho,” from its rocky birth to its unconventional debut into society. But it’s the in-between — the progression and the growth of “Psycho,” which spans the majority of this riveting recount — that is by far the most intriguing portion of the plot.

The events that are detailed might be a surprise to even the biggest of Hitchcock buffs: Hitchcock attempts to buy every copy of the original novel to prevent any future viewer from knowing its ending; Paramount studios won’t fund the production, so Hitchcock coughs up his own cash, risking bankruptcy should “Psycho” flop; and Hitchcock himself is the one wielding the knife in a rage of fury as the famous “shower scene” is filmed.

But perhaps the most shocking revelation occurs when Hitchcock falls ill and relies on his wife, Alma (Helen Mirren, “Arthur”), who helped write, direct and edit many of his films, to keep the camera rolling; she’s not your average “plus one” walking the red carpet at a Hollywood premiere.

This film could have easily been titled “Mr. and Mrs. Hitchcock.” As the tagline reads, “Behind every psycho is a great woman.” In this case, that statement applies both figuratively and literally. Not only does Alma entirely disappear in the shadow cast from her husband’s notoriously plump figure, she takes an unjustly designated backseat when it comes to giving credit where credit is due. In addition to preventing “Hitch” — as he is so affectionately deemed — from drinking and eating himself to death, Alma is abundantly responsible for much of his onscreen success, and in “Hitchcock” she gets a well-deserved 98 minutes of fame.

Mirren, like her character, shines brightly in an impressive pairing of gifted human beings. She doesn’t simply keep up with the ever-so-consistently-perfect Sir Anthony Hopkins, who knocks it out of the park with a historically accurate portrayal of an outspoken egomaniac with an inferiority complex. During their scenes together, she’s the one throwing punches in the ring.

Nominated this year for both a Golden Globe and the Screen Actors Guild Award, Mirren gives a memorable performance packed with an attractive balance of poise and power: It’s impossible not to root for her as she deals with her husband’s trials and tribulations as well as her own personal struggles, including the temptation of an affair with her screenwriting partner, Whitfield Cook (Danny Huston, “Stolen”).

Rounding out the supporting cast is a trio of beautiful women: Scarlett Johansson (“The Avengers”) as leading lady Janet Leigh, Jessica Biel (“Total Recall”) as co-star Vera Miles and Toni Collette (“Mental”) as Hitchcock’s secretary, Peggy Robertson. But beauty is the extent of their notability. Any actress vaguely resembling the real-life counterpart — and who can simply deliver lines — would fit the bill, because that’s all that’s required here.

Coupled with clever dialogue from John McLaughlin (“Black Swan”), Hopkins and Mirren dominate the spotlight and, if you will, “run the show” in this engaging tale of the all-time classic horror film that almost wasn’t. Talk about psycho.