Filmmaker Sacha Gervaisi’s Hitchcock takes the superficial and well documented elements of ‘The Master of Suspense” and weaves it into an unfocused impression of the man during the making of the film Psycho.
Set in the wake of the supremely successful and enduring classic North by Northwest, Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins) chooses the path less travelled challenging and risqué material of the novel Psycho to prove that his vast talents could wrangle something on the precipice of taboo into art.
The dual focus of the film balances between the ageing Hitchcock who is desperate to remain innovative and remain cutting edge in his twilight years and illuminating (and elevating) the woman behind the man Alma Reville (Helen Mirren).
Hopkins does a terrific job of embodying the icon physically (with the assistance of excellent prosthetics) and vocally. There are especially potent subjective dream sequences where ‘Hitch’ dreams of Ed Gein (the real life killer that inspired the Norman Bates character in Psycho played by the chameleon Michael Wincott). In the grimy spaces of Gein’s lair, we see the grotesque and enticing truth that forms Hitch’s muse for the subject. And while Mirren’s Alma is performed with the gravitas that you’d expect from the Oscar winning Dame but her total dominance in the relationship is problematic. The film poses Hitchcock as either a petulant man-child in a perpetual tantrum without Alma; or a paranoid obsessive from the ilk of the antagonists that populate his films. This relationship fundamentally calls into question Hitchcock’s genius, in an offensively simplistic manner.
Hitchcock is saved by some tremendous but brief performances. Scarlett Johanssen’s Janet Leigh is a subtle and warm presence in the middle of the Hitchcock tornado. For Psycho fans James D’Arcy’s Anthony Perkins is mesmerising and yet tragically underused.
Gervaisi (director of the amazing documentary Anvil: The Story of Anvil) is stuck in the mud of Hitchcock’s public perception of the man. The film is structured in homage to Hitch’s television presenter role as it is to Psycho – seeking to focus on the aesthetic over the substance. Alma’s expanded role is at the expense of a meaty and quality examination of Hitchcock the man.
Unfortunately an illuminating bio-pic of one of cinema’s most enduring and celebrated figures is not what’s been delivered. Hitchcock is sporadic interludes of insight into the great man (and his great woman), peppered with a few in jokes to make this mildly entertaining for fans.
[rating=2] and a half
Directed by: Sacha Gervasi
Written by: John J. McLaughlin (screenplay), Stephen Rebello (book)
Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren and Scarlett Johansson