You wait for one depiction of the ‘Master Of Suspense’, then inevitably two come along in quick succession. Smothered in suggestion triggering widespread controversy, the Toby Jones’ led ‘The Girl’ caused quite a stir painting the iconic director in quite the negative light. Thankfully for the enthusiasts, Sacha Gervasi’s focus is harnessed here firmly on one man’s struggle to ‘change the game’ and convince studio bigwigs to subvert audience expectations. However, with a more measured approach evident.. Does ‘Hitchcock’ pack as much substantial weight as Alfred’s waistline?
Punctuated with ’theatrical’ narration bookending the film, Anthony Hopkins’ Hitchcock is revelling in the success of his latest hit ‘North By Northwest’. Sadly for all the critical love he receives, Alfred is creatively redundant and insecure. Home life has taken a hit, as his talented wife Alma Reville (Helen Mirren) grows tired of being uncredited and is drawn to smooth talking scriptwriter Whitfield Cook (Danny Huston). Whilst Hitchcock himself wrestles with idealist studio hotshots, as he seeks out his next project to unleash onto the masses.
Immediately drawn to the grim nature of Robert Bloch novel ‘Psycho’, his eagerness to adapt results in fierce opposition. Dismissed as cheap horror, president of Paramount Pictures Barney Balaban (Richard Portnow) appears unconvinced and refuses to pour money into the project. Undeterred, Hitchcock makes the potentially fatal gamble of self financing ‘Psycho’ himself and frantically assembles his cast. Cue a lack of control with his temprament and an unhealthy obsession with beautiful blondes being projected during the shoot, with Scarlett Johannson’s Janet Leigh the object of his affections.
Director Gervasi is undoubtedly efficient in peppering the audience with various details about this turbulent period of Hitchcock’s remarkable life. Unfortunately, unlike the infamous weapon on display in his eventual masterpiece, he fails to penetrate the narrative skin of the subject matter with the handling of such subplots superficial and frustatingly undercooked. Whilst the retelling of the troubled production of ’Psycho’ brims with entertainment value, Gervasi on the whole struggles to nail down a consistent tone wavering between heightened melodrama and scenes of psychological torment.
The illustrious double act of Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren are renowned for elevating material beyond their average trappings and here is no exception. Near unrecognisable as Hitchcock (with a little help from prosthetics), Hopkins perfectly encapsulates the complexity of such a colourful albeit creepy character. Admirable in his rebellion against studio conformists whilst playful with his filmmaking cohorts (Call me Hitch, Hold the Cock), it’s a thoroughly convincing showing. In a well nuanced turn, Mirren as the headstrong Alma is riveting, proving the real driving force behind Alfred’s career. The eye candy of Johansson and Biel are sadly reduced to being the target of Gervasi’s visual nods to the auteur, as the voyeuristic ‘peeping tom’ shots slowly mount up.
Well intentioned and performed, Gervasi’s film is overall a decent biopic. However, you can’t shake the feeling that with a more capable pair of hands at the helm, ’Hitchcock’ could have amounted to something more substantial and compelling.