The year is 1959 and film director Alfred Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins) has recently enjoyed a huge hit with his thriller North by Northwest, but he is well aware that in Hollywood you're only as big as your last picture, so now has to look about for another potential success, and one which will sustain his position as one of the top filmmakers around. However, he's now sixty years old and there's a new broom about to sweep through the industry as the sixties dawn, so what can Hitch do to prove he's still relevant? The answer he finds in a horror novel inspired by the exploits of murderer Ed Gein (Michael Wincott)...
That's right, someone made a making of featurette as seen on many a DVD into a movie, though in this case it was Stephen Rebello's book on the creation of Psycho which formed the basis of John J. McLaughlin's script, with added asides from a phantom Ed Gein. The twenty-first century's obsession with dramatising real events into semi-fictional form as if to make them all the more real and immediate simply by dint of the fact we had seen other famous people act them out was well underway by the time Hitchcock was released, a fashion apparently popularised when so many actual documentaries started to include dramatisations of material they had no footage of.
But to make a movie with characters and plot and all that, was a different proposition than making a documentary where it was archives which were raided for the visuals, and in this case they made much of the supposed tension between Hitch and his wife Alma (Helen Mirren) in that she was the power behind the throne and unjustly ignored in the assessments of his career. There was little doubt their partnership was an important part of what made the director's films as popular as they were, though evidence was that Hitch would have balked at saying Alma was neglected to the extent we saw here, then again with the movie Alma considering (but not really) an affair you had to take this with a large pinch of salt.
But if you did, you might find rewards, especially when director Sacha Gervasi had fun with the concept. This was a very twenty-first century take on history of fifty years ago, so we had to have a heavy psychological examination of how the subject ticked, a trend begun by Donald Spoto's gossip trading as serious journalism in his books on the director, so since Hitch was a creator of entertainments where murder features prominently, he just had to be a nutcase himself. Thus here we see him as a barely balanced Pygmalion type, lamenting the blondes he has star in his movies as ungrateful for his attention, which has a seedily sexual and controlling side to it, and even grabbing the knife off the double to hack away in Psycho's famous shower scene.
If Gervasi really did have the courage of his convictions, he would have made his movie a fantasia on Hitchcock's life and depicted him as a corpulent Svengali who actually did commit murder to sate his crazed artistic temperament, but as it was we got halfhearted recreations of Hitch's eccentricities, as if the filmmakers were disappointed their subject didn't go further - his behaviour on The Birds with Tippi Hedren would have suited their purposes better, but someone had beaten them to it with a television movie that same year. Nevertheless, the era was so carefully recreated that it was perfectly diverting to watch Scarlett Johansson perform a very creditable Janet Leigh impersonation, though Jessica Biel as Vera Miles was pretty much how she always was. If you wanted a well-researched rendering of Psycho's history, you'd be better off with the book, but Hitchcock touched on themes of collaboration and the human impulse not to look away when confronted with horror and to worry at it instead which made it fairly worthwhile, though Danny Elfman's music was a slight letdown.