Alfred Hitchcock was more than the master of suspense. The director of such landmark motion pictures as Rear Window and Vertigo was instrumental in devising the language of modern film. As such, it seems a cruel irony that a movie about him would be made by decidedly lesser filmmakers.
The film, however, is hardly the work of incompetents. Director Sacha Gervasi has an absorbing rockumentary (Anvil: The Story of Anvil) to his credit, and screenwriter John McLaughlin showed his prowess with macabre subject matter in Black Swan. But Hitchcock is unsure of its footing. The feel is curiously retro, but more musty than endearing.Worse, it is saddled with amateurish exposition. You get a sense of the ham-handedness early, when the director (Anthony Hopkins, Thor) faces the press after the premiere of 1959’s North by Northwest: “Mr. Hitchcock!” shouts a reporter, “You’ve directed 46 motion pictures. You’re the most famous director in the history of the medium. But you’re 60 years old. Shouldn’t you just quit while you’re ahead?” That kind of on-the-nose dialogue becomes almost crippling.
Hopkins dons prosthetics aplenty to approximate Alfred’s sizable girth, but his cadence and mannerisms don’t work. Helen Mirren (Red) fares better as Alma, his loyal wife and creative collaborator who endured her husband’s periodic fixations with his blonde leading ladies.
But here, Hitchcock takes liberties.
Mirren doesn’t resemble the real-life Alma, and lengthy stretches of the film deal with a shaky subplot involving the long-suffering spouse caught between her devotion to Hitch and the flirty attentions of a screenwriter (Danny Huston, Wrath of the Titans).
Then again, Hitchcock takes more liberties than a cad with a drunken date. The Hitchcock envisioned here spies on his blonde actresses through peepholes and has fantasy rap sessions with Ed Gein (Michael Wincott, Along Came a Spider), the serial killer whose real-life horrors inspired the Robert Bloch novel Psycho.
Yet the titular character is ultimately painted as a sexually repressed but lovable eccentric. Recently, HBO’s The Girl, a dramatic account of Hitchcock’s making of The Birds, depicted him as a would-be predator obsessed with actress Tippi Hedren. A more truthful account is likely somewhere between that hit-piece and this more revered treatment.
Hitchcock is most fun when it dispenses with the domestic strife and sticks to the making of Psycho. Scarlett Johansson (The Avengers) nails the feistiness of actress Janet Leigh, while James D’Arcy (Cloud Atlas) does a solid impression of Psycho himself, Anthony Perkins. But both performances are little more than window dressing in a muddle of a movie.
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• The Psycho Legacy DVD review
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