×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Hitchcock

"Hitchcock" is a diverting but dramatically insipid account of how the Master of Suspense took his biggest gamble and delivered his greatest success with "Psycho."

With:
Alfred Hitchcock - Anthony Hopkins
Alma Reville - Helen Mirren
Janet Leigh - Scarlett Johansson
Peggy Robertson - Toni Collette
Whitfield Cook - Danny Huston
Vera Miles - Jessica Biel
Lew Wasserman - Michael Stuhlbarg
Anthony Perkins - James D'Arcy
Ed Gein - Michael Wincott
Geoffrey Shurlock - Kurtwood Smith
Barney Balaban - Richard Portnow

Hitchcock” is a diverting but dramatically insipid account of how the Master of Suspense took his biggest gamble and delivered his greatest success with “Psycho.” Focusing less on the production of that 1960 masterpiece than the strain it purportedly caused the director’s relationship with his long-suffering wife, Alma Reville, this behind-the-scenes bonbon offers an easily digestible menu of dishy one-liners and capable performances. But while international and ancillary prospects look decent, the film buffs likely to constitute the bulk of Fox Searchlight’s audience will be left unsatisfied by the picture’s lack of density, texture or insight into its ostensible subject.

An intriguing change of pace for helmer Sacha Gervasi after his winning 2008 docu “Anvil! The Story of Anvil,” this Nov. 23 release arrives in theaters just a month after the airing of HBO’s “The Girl,” an unflattering portrait of Alfred Hitchcock’s troubled dealings with star Tippi Hedren during production on “The Birds” and “Marnie.” While it similarly references the helmer’s attempts to manipulate the blonde leading ladies who tickled his fancy, the comparatively frothy “Hitchcock” offers a more sympathetic, even comedic assessment of the man behind the portly silhouette.

Following the 1959 success of “North by Northwest,” Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins), annoyed by press coverage suggesting he should quit while he’s ahead, decides to tackle something bold and different: an adaptation of Robert Bloch’s suspense novel “Psycho” (or, as pronounced in the helmer’s British drawl, “Psy-choowww”). Bloch’s sordid tale of transvestism, incest and matricide strikes almost everyone as a tasteless choice of material for a world-class director, and when Paramount head Barney Balaban (Richard Portnow) refuses to finance the picture, Hitch opts to pony up the relatively low $800,000 budget himself, in exchange for a cut of the profits.

Despite her own reservations, especially when they’re forced to mortgage the house, Alma (Helen Mirren), always her husband’s closest confidante and often uncredited collaborator, lends him her customarily wry support. At the same time, she seeks another creative outlet fine-tuning a screenplay by longtime friend and “Strangers on a Train” scribe Whitfield Cook (Danny Huston), baldly depicted here as a cad with more charisma than talent.

Loosely based on Stephen Rebello’s terrifically exhaustive 1990 book “Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of ‘Psycho,'” the screenplay by John J. Laughlin (a co-writer on “Black Swan”) is understandably hard-pressed to accommodate every fascinating aspect of the pic’s production history. Still, it’s disappointing that the film never gets beyond a superficial re-creation. What relevant details there are tend to get rattled off like bullet points, as when a Production Code censor (Kurtwood Smith) testily informs us that no American movie before “Psycho” has dared to show a toilet being flushed.

Considerable time is spent addressing the director’s strained relations with actress Vera Miles (Jessica Biel) and his tender rapport with his new star, Janet Leigh (Scarlett Johansson), who fondly notes that, whatever Hitch’s flaws, “compared to Orson Welles, he’s a sweetheart.” By contrast, Anthony Perkins (James D’Arcy) gets just a few fidgety lines and a coy, smirking reference to the actor’s sexuality, and the film only glancingly acknowledges key contributors such as scribe Joseph Stefano (Ralph Macchio) and title designer/pictorial consultant Saul Bass (Wallace Langham). Cinephiles and academics may take issue with numerous other omissions (one never catches even a glimpse of the Universal lot’s Bates Motel set, for example).

More egregious than any factual deviation, however, is the film’s bizarre suggestion that Hitchcock’s headaches were caused not merely by studio and censor interference, but by his own personal demons, stemming from his irrational suspicion that Alma may be having an affair. A series of pointless dream/fantasy interludes show Hitchcock consorting with Ed Gein (Michael Wincott), the serial killer who served as the real-life inspiration for Norman Bates, as if only someone a little nutty himself could have made a great film out of “Psycho.” Similarly, the famous shower scene, the making of which could furnish its own movie, has been ludicrously dramatized so as to emphasize the helmer’s alleged emotional instability on the set.

The result is a film that essentially contradicts the reality that “Psycho’s” limited means, far from exposing the director’s incompetence, in fact revealed the extent of his mastery. As such, “Hitchcock” offers almost zero insight into the peculiar workings of creative genius, or into the rich, taboo-shattering legacy of the film whose making it documents.

The upshot of Gervasi and Laughlin’s conception is that the Alfred-Alma marriage was sorely tested by the demanding production but wound up saving it in the end. However facile this thesis, it does have the benefit of two lead actors who bring endearing shades of humanity to scenes of the Hitchcocks on the set and in their little-seen home. Mirren has the advantage of not only playing the less widely recognized figure, but also embodying the drama’s moral compass; whether scolding her husband for his gluttonous appetite, or telling him off in the film’s one riveting scene, she makes poignantly clear that Alma’s frustrations with Hitchcock are inextricable from her devotion to him.

Outfitted with facial prosthetics, blue contact lenses and a hairpiece, always gulping rather than sipping a glass of wine, Hopkins does a droll impersonation of the director’s iconic stiff posture and sinister tones, and he takes particular delight in his wickedly deadpan asides (on actor John Gavin: “Plywood is more expressive”). Yet while he looks more like Hitchcock than Toby Jones did in “The Girl,” Hopkins doesn’t quite match that actor’s insinuating impact; physical likeness is only half the battle here.

Despite their own so-so resemblances to their real-life counterparts, Johansson and Biel have effective moments, while Michael Stuhlbarg cuts an admirable figure as the young Lew Wasserman, Hitchcock’s agent and defender. Pic manages a reasonable evocation of late ’50s/early ’60s Hollywood but still looks somewhat underrealized, and the occasional use of Bernard Herrmann’s screeching violins only accentuates the blandness of the film’s main score.

Hitchcock

Production: A Fox Searchlight release presented in association with Cold Spring Pictures of a Montecito Picture Co. and Barnette/Thayer production made in association with Dune Entertainment and Ingenious Media. Produced by Ivan Reitman, Tom Pollock, Joe Medjuck, Tom Thayer, Alan Barnette. Executive producers, Ali Bell, Richard Middleton. Co-producer, John Schneider. Directed by Sacha Gervasi. Screenplay, John J. McLaughlin, based on the book "Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of 'Psycho'" by Stephen Rebello.

Crew: Camera (Deluxe color, HD), Jeff Cronenweth; editor, Pamela Martin; music, Danny Elfman; music supervisor, David Norland; production designer, Judy Becker; art director, Alexander Wei; set designers, Thomas J. Machan, Andrew Birdzell; set decorator, Robert Gould; costume designer, Julie Weiss; sound (Dolby/Datasat), Edward Tise; supervising sound editors, Mildred Iatrou Morgan, Ai-ling Lee; re-recording mixers, Ron Bartlett, D.M. Hemphill; special makeup effects, Howard Berger, Gregory Nicotero; special effects coordinator, David Waine; special effects supervisor, Josh Hakian; visual effects, Furious FX, Prana Animation Studios; stunt coordinators, Eric Norris, Eddie Braun; associate producers, Peter Kohn, Jeffrey Harlacker; assistant director, Peter Kohn; casting, Terri Taylor. Reviewed at AFI Fest (opener, Galas), Los Angeles, Nov. 1, 2012. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 98 MIN.

With: Alfred Hitchcock - Anthony Hopkins
Alma Reville - Helen Mirren
Janet Leigh - Scarlett Johansson
Peggy Robertson - Toni Collette
Whitfield Cook - Danny Huston
Vera Miles - Jessica Biel
Lew Wasserman - Michael Stuhlbarg
Anthony Perkins - James D'Arcy
Ed Gein - Michael Wincott
Geoffrey Shurlock - Kurtwood Smith
Barney Balaban - Richard PortnowWith: Ralph Macchio, Wallace Langham.

More Film

  • Nicole Kidman Meryl Streep

    Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman to Star in Ryan Murphy's 'The Prom' at Netflix

    Ryan Murphy enlisted a star-studded cast for his upcoming Netflix movie “The Prom,” an adaptation of the Tony-nominated Broadway musical. Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman, Awkwafina, James Corden, Ariana Grande, Keegan-Michael Key and Andrew Rannells are among the A-listers bringing “The Prom” to screens. “The Prom” follows a lesbian student in the fictional conservative town of [...]

  • Viktor Dvorak, Anna Geislerova Join Vaclav

    Viktor Dvorak, Anna Geislerova Join Václav Havel Biopic

    Viktor Dvorak has been cast in “Havel,” a biopic of Václav Havel, as the Czech playwright, dissident and national leader. Anna Geislerova, who starred in Oscar nominated “Zelary,” plays his wife, Olga Havlova. Jiri Bartoska, the president of Karlovy Vary Film Festival, will appear in the film as “Professor,” inspired by Czech philosopher Jan Patocka. [...]

  • Daniel Craig

    'Bond 25' First Footage Sees Daniel Craig Back as 007

    After suffering a series of setbacks, including finding a new director and Daniel Craig’s on-set injury, “Bond 25” production is officially underway. A new behind-the-scenes clip of the upcoming James Bond film features Craig and helmer Cary Joji Fukunaga at work in the Caribbean. The minute-long footage didn’t reveal much about the still-untitled movie, though [...]

  • (L to R) Marco Graf as

    ‘Roma,’ ‘The Good Girls’ Top Mexico’s Ariel Academy Awards

    The Mexican Academy of Arts and Cinematographic Sciences hosted the 61st edition of their Ariel Awards on Monday evening, where Alfonso Cuarón’s “Roma” and Alejandra Márquez Abella’s “The Good Girls” stood out among the winners. Perhaps the most surprising thing about Cuarón’s “Roma” scooping best picture is that it’s only the second of his films to [...]

  • The Eight Hundred (The 800)

    Already Pulled From Shanghai Festival, 'The Eight Hundred' Cancels Its China Release

    Already pulled from its prestigious spot as the opener of the Shanghai International Film Festival, war epic “The Eight Hundred” has been dealt a further below with the cancellation of its scheduled release in China next week. In a terse announcement on its official Weibo account, the film said late Tuesday that, “after consultation between [...]

  • Méndez Esparza, Fernando Franco, Villaronga Projects

    Projects By Mendez Esparza, Fernando Franco and Villaronga at Small Is Biutiful

    Antonio Méndez Esparza’s “Que nadie duerma,” Fernando Franco’s “La consagración de la primavera” and Agustí Villaronga’s “3.000 obstáculos” figure among the seven projects to be pitched at Paris’ Small Is Biutiful forum. The closing event for the alternative Spanish film festival Dífferent 12!, Small Is Biutiful takes place June 26, bringing together French distributors and [...]

  • Judi Dench

    Judi Dench Says Works by Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey Should Be Respected

    Veteran British star Judi Dench has said that the work produced by Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey should be separated from the offenses they are alleged to have committed. Both Weinstein and Spacey face charges of sexual assault in the U.S., which they deny, and have been investigated in other jurisdictions as well, including Britain. [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content