Notorious is a special Hitchcock film, and has been widely praised by critics as one of his finest cinematic achievements. Made after World War II and just at the start of the Cold War, Notorious was relevant at the time for an audience that was very familiar with the Nazi enemies depicted in the screenplay. As Roger Ebert noted in his review of the film, "A few months later, [Hitchcock] would have made the villains Communists..." The film showcases many of Hitchcock's signature talents: his eye for visual cues and details, his ingenious use of angle and perspective to heighten suspense, and his nuanced investigation of psychological complexity and moral ambiguity.
The elegance of the shots in the film have long been noted by critics who see Notorious as Hitchcockian brilliance at its finest. In his assessment of the film, journalist Frank Cottrell Boyce notes, "The film also includes one of Hitchcock's most famous shots, when the camera plunges over the bannister of a high staircase into the glitter and bustle of a party, shimmies through the guests and comes up behind Bergman to find a key hidden in the palm of her hand. The shot goes to the heart of Hitchcock's aesthetic – which is all about control." The film is filled with many such photographic touches, subtle cues that pull viewers in and involve them in the story, itself the perfect combination of suspenseful and romantic thrill.
One of the elements of the film that reviewers often note led to its success is the superb casting, which was done not by Hitchcock but by producer David O. Selznick. As Alicia, Ingrid Bergman demonstrates simultaneous fragility and strength, as well as an emotional availability that pulls us in and puts us in her position every step of the way. A far cry from his usual role as charming goofball, Cary Grant's T.R. Devlin allows the actor to demonstrate his more serious side, which he does with impressive restraint. The rest of the cast is wonderful as well, and their expert performances are shot with a crystalline attention by Hitchcock. He often shoots his stars in a tight close-up, revealing their subtlest expressions and most veiled thoughts. The result is one of the most deeply affecting psychological thrillers of all time, a true classic.