Despite the fascinating subject, this silly, highly dubious biopic wastes a starry cast, writes Tara Brady
Another week, another ludicrous panto history: following hot on the heels of the unintentionally camp Hyde Park on Hudson, Hitchcock lands in cinemas with the dull thud of a corpse minus the Bernard Hermann accompaniment. A daft tale of mystery and peepholes fashioned around the production of Psycho, Sacha Gervasi’s slight, frivolous drama goes through the motions with all the enthusiasm of a late franchise prequel.
Unnerved by the suggestion that he might like to retire after North By Northwest, master of suspense Alfred Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins) determines to shake things up with film of Robert Bloch’s pulpy take on the Ed Gein murders. The studio is rather less keen on the idea, leaving Hitch to shoot the picture with his own money, using the crew from his TV show.
Meanwhile, on the home front, there are marital difficulties to contend with. By now, Alma Reville (Helen Mirren), Hitchcock’s long time collaborator and partner, is accustomed to the director’s blondes (Scarlett Johansson and Jessica Biel do the honours as Janet Leigh and Vera Miles). Alfred, however, is rather shaken by the idea that Mrs Hitchcock may be running around with screenwriter Whitfield Cook (Danny Huston).
Can they possibly put aside their differences and make Psycho against all the odds? Well, d’uh.
Gervasi, the screenwriter behind The Terminal and director of the sublime Anvil: The Story of Anvil, is an interesting talent who knows well to pepper the proceedings with Hitchcockian cuts and chicanery. But occasional flair and an A-list cast are simply not enough to carry this erratic origins story.
Tonally, Hitchcock can’t quite decide between winking at its audience – it’s a bird, just like in The Birds, geddit? – and psychodrama. Ed Gein himself unwisely pops up as a manifestation of Hitchcock’s inner turmoil, only to disappear for long stretches. All attempts to invigorate the historic details with thrills and spills – a last minute edit, a domestic walkout – fail to convince.
We’re left with the comfort of watching very famous people dressed up as other very famous people. Mind you, Anthony Hopkins is so entombed in prosthetic jowls there might be any number of people under there.
You’ve lost that screaming feeling: Alfred Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins) directed Vera Miles (Jessica Biel)