Lightweight but fun 'Hitchcock'
By David Germain, Associated Press
April 19, 2013, 6:53 pm TWN
The man who made "Psycho" was no lightweight, though he kind of comes off that way in "Hitchcock."
Starring Anthony Hopkins as Alfred Hitchcock and Helen Mirren as his wife and collaborator, Alma, "Hitchcock" puts a featherlight yet entertaining touch on the behind-the-scenes struggle to make the mother of all slasher films.
Hitchcock's very dark side gets superficial treatment as the film offers the cinematic equivalent of psychobabble to explore the director's notorious gluttony, sexual repression and idolization of his leading ladies.
Though shallow, "Hitchcock" has a playful quality that often makes it good fun, its spirit of whimsy a wink that the filmmakers know they're riffing on Hitchcock's merrily macabre persona and not examining the man with any great depth or insight.
"Hitchcock" is a promising move into dramatic filmmaking for director Sacha Gervasi after his 2009 documentary "Anvil: The Story of Anvil," a chronicle of heavy-metal wannabes who never quite made it. With screenwriter John J. McLaughlin adapting Stephen Rebello's book "Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho," Gervasi spins a nimble tale of a genteel yet volatile genius turning water into wine as Hitchcock transforms a tawdry story inspired by murderer Ed Gein into high art — and one of the scariest movies ever.
Fresh off a big success with 1959's "North by Northwest," Hopkins' Hitchcock lapses into the sort of funk that repeated itself throughout his career as he floundered about in search of his next film. He defies the expectations of Paramount executives and his own colleagues, Alma included, when he settles on Robert Bloch's novel "Psycho," the Gein-influenced story of Norman Bates, a soft-spoken mama's boy whose creepy double life leads to multiple murders.
Alma thinks it's a cheap story that's beneath her husband. Hitchcock thinks the spare tale — its savage violence told with subtle suggestiveness to mollify Hollywood's puritanical censors — can leave fans screaming in their seats.
"Hitchcock" strains to play up marital strife between the two as Alma feels tempted by a writing colleague (Danny Huston), while Alfred's frustrated fancies continue over his long string of Hitchcock blondes — in this case, "Psycho" co-stars Janet Leigh (Scarlett Johansson) and Vera Miles (Jessica Biel) — the latter standing with Grace Kelly among his greatest fixations.
The film also strays into Freudian fantasies as the specter of Gein himself (Michael Wincott) pops up to help Hitchcock work through his issues. These moments are clunky devices that offer no understanding of Hitchcock and his demons; at best, they're good for a chuckle here and there.