Like walking into a dark movie theater from a sunny day, it'll take your eyes a little while to adjust to director Sacha Gervasi's "Hitchcock." Both the story and Anthony Hopkins's performance as the ground-breaking director Alfred Hitchcock can't be judged at first glance.
The film has all the trappings of being a rather mundane behind-the-scenes look at how Hitchcock -- along with his wife and creative partner, Alma Reville (Helen Mirren) -- gambled with their own money and Hitchcock's reputation to get the movie "Psycho" made. The film is now considered a classic, but the movie's dark themes made it look like Hitchcock had lost his mind for trying to tell the story on the big screen.
Like any good Hitchcock film, there's more than meets the eye.
John J. McLaughlin's script, based on the book by Stephen Rebello, is more of a love story than a Hollywood insider. Hitchcock has always been given the credit for cinematic genius he's shown in his work, but none of those works would have been made without the support and input of Reville. Gervasi focuses on how it's Reville who keeps putting Hitchcock back on track when he reaches an impasse.
The love story is broadened by a purely professional relationship between Reville and fellow writer Whitfield Cook, played dashingly by Danny Huston. Although the pair only worked together, the story line allows Gervasi to show a jealous side of Hitchcock.
It's well-documented that Hitchcock could be lecherous around his blond leading ladies. But this film shows that deeper emotional problems haunted the director.
Gervasi smoothly moves between the professional and personal lives of Hitchcock using scenes in one world to support those in the other. Hitchcock's filming of the "Psycho" shower scene -- considered one of the most violent images on screen despite nothing really being shown -- reflects the anger and anxiety the director is dealing with as he starts to doubt his wife's fidelity.
The other adjustment you'll have to make is the way Hopkins portrays Hitchcock. Just as Hopkins did in his Oscar-nominated work in the 1995 film "Nixon," he doesn't attempt an exact impersonation. Instead, Hopkins concentrates on key elements to create the illusion of the person he's playing.
Because Hopkins isn't burdened with having to nail down the gruff speech patterns of Hitchcock or fully imitate his sloth-like movements, the actor is able to concentrate on taking the role to a deep emotional depth. It's a task he accomplishes because he's working with the remarkable Mirren. If all acting was a universe, these two would be at the center of it.
Hitchcock wasn't the only place where Gervasi went for the best actor and not the best mimic. Scarlett Johansson plays "Psycho" queen Janet Leigh with great charm and confidence, a strong emotional representation of the actress even if Johansson doesn't look like Leigh.
The casting and story show that any thoughts that this is a typical Hollywood biopic is for the birds. Gervasi has created a fascinating love story played out against an even more fascinating career.
"Hitchcock," rated PG-13 for adult situations, violence. Stars Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Scarlett Johansson, Danny Huston, Toni Collette. Directed by Sacha Gervasi. Running time: 98 minutes. Grade: B Other movie reviews
TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355, firstname.lastname@example.org or @RickBentley1 on Twitter. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com.