Pity poor Toby Jones.
A few years ago, he got what he probably thought was the role of a lifetime, playing Truman Capote in Infamous, a movie about the writing of In Cold Blood. Then Philip Seymour Hoffman swooped in playing the title role in Bennett Miller's Capote, winning the Oscar and leaving Jones' performance in Infamous as an afterthought, a curiosity released a year later to little notice.
Now Jones, unfortunately, has done it again. He's been cast as Alfred Hitchcock in a creepy little film, The Girl, which dramatized Hitchcock's obsession (and harassment) of actress Tippi Hedren during the making of The Birds. Jones even got out of the gate first, with his film airing in October on HBO.
But that film will be just another footnote, after people see Hitchcock, which features Anthony Hopkins in what could, in a less crowded year, be an Oscar-nominated performance, playing the master of suspense as he tries to get Psycho off the ground.
Sacha Gervasi's film, from a script by John J. McLaughlin (and based on a book by Stephen Rebello), is fun in all the ways that The Girl was not. Even as it treads some of the same ground as The Girl -- including Hitchcock's overbearing fixation on his blonde leading ladies -- it finds depth and humor in a man who, at the top of his game, is told he can't make the movie he wants to.
Hitchcock was coming off the multi-million-dollar success of one of his biggest hits, North by Northwest, when he settled on Robert Bloch's novel, Psycho. The book was a shocking little thriller inspired by the multiple murders and cannibalistic habits of reclusive farmer-killer Ed Gein; it caught the attention of Hitchcock, who was always under pressure to surprise the audience.
His wife and lifelong partner, Alma Reville (Helen Mirren), wants him to look at a new novel by her smarmy friend, Whitfield Cook (Danny Huston), who had an "adaptation by" credit on Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train. But Hitchcock is fascinated by the success of low-budget (if tawdry) black-and-white horror movies. What, he wonders, would happen if one was made by a director who knew what he was doing? He becomes convinced that, if he shoots Psycho cheaply in black and white -- the way he did his weekly TV series -- and applied his own unique talent to the horror genre, he could have a success.
But the bigwigs at Paramount disagree. They see Psycho as distinctly down-market and unseemly, unworthy of the studio or its most prestigious brand-name director. So Hitchcock convinces them to let him finance the picture himself, though the studio will release it.
The bulk of the film is about the pressure this puts him under.
This review continues on my website.