Be­hind the scenes story aims to please


Austin American-Statesman - - AUSTIN360 DAILY - D CONTRIBUTED by SUZANNE TEN­NER / Fox Search­light rat­ing: PG-13 for vi­o­lence, sex­u­al­ity, adult themes. run­ning time: 1 hour, 38 min­utes. the­aters: Ar­bor, Vi­o­let Crown. rat­ing: PG-13, sex­u­al­ity, lan­guage, brief in­tense scene. run­ning time: 1 hour, 46 minut

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 made.

Fresh ofi 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 ffoundered about in search of his next fllm. He de­fles the ex­pec­ta­tions of Para­mount ex­ec­u­tives and his own col­leagues, Alma in­cluded, when he set­tles on Robert Bloch’s novel “Psy­cho,” the Gein-inf­fuenced 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 — could 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” costars Janet Leigh (Scar­lett Jo­hans­son) and Vera Miles ( Jes­sica Biel) — the lat­ter stand­ing with Grace Kelly among his great­est flx­a­tions.

The fllm 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 ofier no un­der­stand­ing of Hitch­cock and his de­mons; at best, they’re good for a chuckle here and there.

And while the fllm­maker-at-work mo­ments are sim­i­larly friv­o­lous, it’s wicked fun watch­ing Hop­kins’ Hitch­cock as cruel taskmas­ter, us­ing what­ever flgu­ra­tive cat­tle prods he can flnd to trick or ca­jole what he wants out of his ac­tors.

Hop­kins is padded to match Hitch­cock’s portly sil­hou­ette, yet the jowly pros­thet­ics ap­plied to his face are a bit dis­tract­ing and un­re­al­is­tic. They don’t make Hop­kins look much more like Hitch­cock; they just make him look like An­thony Hop­kins with pros­thet­ics on his face.

Still, the spirit of Hitch­cock comes through in Hop­kins’ sly per­for­mance, and he cap­tures the mea­sured ca­dence of the fllm­maker’s speech even though he doesn’t sound much like Hitch­cock, ei­ther.

Mir­ren has the eas­ier task in in­hab­it­ing Alma, bring­ing flerce in­tel­li­gence to Hitch­cock’s wife with­out the hand­i­cap of play­ing some­one whose im­age, voice and man­ner­isms the au­di­ence knows.

The sup­port­ing play­ers are there just for the joy of it, though Jo­hans­son turns out to be sur­pris­ingly good cast­ing as Leigh, phys­i­cally re­sem­bling the ac­tress whose “Psy­cho” char­ac­ter gets snu­fied in the fa­mous shower scene and also do­ing a nice im­per­son­ation of Leigh’s speak­ing style and de­meanor. Like­wise, James D’Arcy is an eerie dead ringer as jit­tery An­thony Perkins, who played the killer Norman.

Be­hind horn-rimmed glasses and a stifi hairdo, Toni Col­lette is a de­light as Hitch­cock’s as­sis­tant, putting great heart and hu­mor into her hand­ful of scenes.

If “Hitch­cock” ul­ti­mately feels in­con­se­quen­tial, it al­ways aims to please, and for the most part, it does. As Alma says at one point, even “Psy­cho,” af­ter all, was just a movie.

(Left) He­len Mir­ren plays wife Alma Reville to An­thony Hop­kins as Al­fred Hitch­cock. Scar­lett Jo­hans­son (top) is Janet Leigh, who is killed in the in­fa­mous shower scene in Hitch­cock’s “Psy­cho.”

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