UK Release Date: 8th February 2013
Runtime: 98 minutes
Director: Sacha Gervasi
Writer: John J McLaughlin
Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Scarlett Johansson, James D’Arcy
Synopsis: Alfred Hitchcock selects horror novel Psycho as the source material for his next film, but he and wife Alma must battle studios and censors to get the film released.
From the very moment the first promotional image of Anthony Hopkins as Alfred Hitchcock was released, this film had been a work worth being excited about. Hopkins looked like he was going to nail the great man and, with the most exciting development story of Hitchcock’s career as the backdrop, the signs were good. It seems, therefore, that director Sacha Gervasi has missed an open goal.
The problem with Hitchcock is that it never takes any risk. In fact, the film’s portrayal of the Master of Suspense is so by the book that it almost tips over into complete hagiography. Hopkins’ Hitchcock is worlds away from the creepy sexual predator played by Toby Jones in TV movie The Girl and shows only hints of the darkness that it is known the man possessed. Brief flashes of his leading lady voyeurism are indeed shown, but these are only brief footnotes in this hero worshipping movie.
Most interesting are the performances of the lead actors. Hopkins is strong as a bullish, stubborn Hitchcock and Helen Mirren sizzles with sassiness as the director’s wife, muse and vital collaborator Alma. Her quasi-affair with another filmmaker is shown lazily and seems merely to facilitate some form of conflict in the marriage. Equally, a bizarre framing device in which Hitchcock is visited by the spirit of Ed Gein – upon whose crimes Psycho is based – seems to serve no purpose but to allow at least some probing into the mind of a genius. Actually though, Hitchcock never actually scratches the surface of the character behind the title.
Woefully underused are Scarlett Johansson and James D’Arcy as Psycho stars Janet Leigh and Anthony Perkins. Johansson drips with charisma and sex appeal, whilst D’Arcy has the perfect twitchy nervousness to portray Perkins. Neither gets the screen time they deserve and they seem to act as mere footnotes to the significantly more mundane neuroses of Mr and Mrs Hitchcock.
Hitchcock is less a proper character study and more a lightning fast history lesson. For those new to Hitchcock, the insights Gervasi’s film offers may be fresh and intriguing, but to those in the know, it’s merely a brief portrait of a complex, flawed genius. It’s a woefully slight film that, whilst having flashes of entertaining brilliance and flair, doesn’t really have anything worthwhile to say.
It’s at its best when on the set of Psycho, displaying Hitchcock’s obsessiveness and stubborn nature. The scene in which he terrifies Leigh with a violent outburst during the filming of the iconic shower murder is cut beautifully and is without doubt Hitchcock’s highlight.
It’s a brief flash of wonder in a film bereft of imagination. One day there will be a decent biopic of the Master of Suspense, but this is far from being it.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.