In Hitchcock, Sacha Gervasi gives us a snapshot of the great director’s life during the making of horror classic, Psycho. Yet Hitchcock remains a broad film, flitting between a psychological look at Hitchcock’s flaws, a comedic romp through the making of his first horror flick and a turbulent romantic drama. In attempting to cover so much, Gervasi barely scratches the surface.
Gervasi’s film introduces its audience to Alfred Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins) aged 60, feeling constrained by the studio system that hampers his creative processes and threatened by upcoming ‘masters of suspense’. Yearning for his early days of risk taking, Hitchcock plumps for a horror movie based on real life murderer Ed Gein.
For a film based on the making of Psycho, Hitchcock is curiously sparse on the topic. With the exception of the infamous shower scene, little time is spent in the company of Hitchcock’s talent as director. More revealing are the moments spent with Hitchcock as he manipulates the Motion Picture Association who spend the largest portion of their screen time worrying about lurid nudity and flushing toilets.
Psycho and it’s male lead, Anthony Perkins (James D’Arcy) are instead overshadowed by Hitchcock’s relationship with his leading ladies, Janet Leigh (Scarlett Johansson) and Vera Miles (Jessica Biel). Hitchcock spies on Miles’ through a hole in her dressing room wall, intimidates his female cast and is deeply self-centered – ‘why do they always betray me?’ he remarks on Vera Miles’ decision to invest time her child rather than her career. While the director’s infatuation with his leading blondes was portrayed with dark intensity in HBOs recent television drama, The Girl, in Hitchcock the exploration of this sinister side barely skims the surface and Hitchcock’s obsession frequently lurches between disturbing and innocuous.
As the making of Psycho slips into the background, Hitchcock’s increasingly pressurised relationship with his wife, Alma (Helen Mirren) shifts to the forefront. The film’s title no doubt refers to their Mr and Mrs partnership that Gervasi heavily underlines. The culmination of this romantic storyline is the film’s genuine climax – the making of Psycho noticeably lacking in jeopardy – and is fueled by a captivating performance from Oscar nominated Helen Mirren. But, following an intense heart-to-heart, Hitchcock plummets into sentimentality, becoming a little too kind to the formidable director.
There’s no doubt that Hitchcock presents the esteemed director as a difficult and complicated character – never more so than when he blatantly fawns over Janet Leigh in the presence of his wife – but fails to explore these flaws in any depth. Even so, Gervasi does inject some Hitchcock-style touches to suggest his subject’s increasing frustration – a close up on a pulsing temperature gauge or the emphasised crunch of a bite through celery that sounds curiously like a decapitating slice. In the film’s weakest moments, murderer Ed Gein appears in conversation with Hitchcock – a device designed to highlight the inner workings of the director’s psyche but feels glaringly out of place.
In spite of this, Hopkins gives a considered performance, delivering Hitchcockian quips with perfect timing and forcefully portraying his moments of fury. Coated in prosthetics Hopkins makes a convincing silhouette but falls short of entirely convincing with an occasional slip from the director’s slow and particular manner of pronunciation.
With a gentle pace and broad approach, Hitchcock makes few revelations about this complicated director or the making of his most shocking film. Instead Hitchcock offers a somewhat sketchy portrayal of this formidable character, made inescapably entertaining by the quality of its lead performances. Padded out with Hitchcockian philosophy – ‘my camera will tell you the truth, the absolute truth’ – nods to Hitchcock’s filmography and suspenseful style, Hitchcock provides plenty of nostalgia but ultimately lacks the intrigue of its movie muse, Psycho.
VERDICT: ✭ ✭ ✭ ✩ ✩ 3/5
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