When I first saw the trailer for Hitchcock, director Sacha Gervasi’s biopic about the acclaimed master of horror and his controversial attempt to bring Psycho to the big screen, I was in complete awe over what such a film could achieve. Like so many other cinephiles, I am a huge fan of the deranged Norman Bates and the doomed Marion Crane, but I’ve never really known much about the production behind Hollywood’s most infamous horror movie. Touted as a behind the scenes look, I was ready for Hitchcock to not only fill me in on all the juicy secrets behind Psycho’s production but to also pay homage to the famous director and his ingenious directorial skills. I mean, think about it, how amazing would a film be if it paid homage to Hitchcock while simultaneously changing our views about one of his most famous films? That would truly be a sensational biopic, but unfortunately, Hitchcock is just the opposite: a lazy attempt at bringing the master of horror back to life.
Instead of giving us an in-depth look at the making of Psycho, Hitchcock drags by focusing primarily on the relationship between Hitch (Anthony Hopkins) and his loving wife and collaborator, Alma Reville (Helen Mirren). That’s not to say that the marriage between the two was uninteresting – quite the contrary, Alma was a brilliant mind whose contributions were tremendous in solidifying her husband’s acclaimed reputation as a filmmaker – but the film just doesn’t do it justice. Instead of giving us a real marriage, the film focuses on Alma’s frustrations with Hitch and her weekend getaways with writer Whitfield Cook. Will Alma cheat on Hitch? Who cares! The strain in their marriage causes Hitch to see visions of the murderous Ed Gein, the real psycho behind Norman Bates, and it all just doesn’t feel right or coherent in any way. Instead of playing the film straight, Grevasi goes for farce and melodrama and it’s just so not Hitchcock for a movie that bares his name.
Even more unfortunate is the fact this this focus on the marriage of Hitch and Alma pushes the real juicy part of the plot – the actual making of Psycho – to the background, and instead of getting some real inside information, all the script allows is for little tidbits that come and go without any effect. The film honestly brings up many fascinating aspects about the making of the movie – be it Alma’s insistence that Marion be killed off before the half way mark or Hitch’s strained relationship with Vera Miles (Jessica Biel) and fatherly relationship with Janet Leigh (Scarlett Johansson) – but instead of digging deep, the movie just makes a point and moves on. As a result, the film feels like bits and pieces of something that could be utterly fascinating but that just isn’t in any way. A scene where Hitch shows how the infamous shower sequence stabbing should work hints at how effective this movie could be (Hitch’s frustration with his wife fuels his desire to see Marion be brutally murdered – now that’s the inside scoop I wanted to see!), but it’s only one scene out of the entire movie that truly sticks. Honestly, the whole thing feels more like a made-for-TV movie than a feature length biopic.
Because the film never commits to focusing on one aspect, none of the actors really get to leave impressions either. Biel and Johansson are entirely wasted as Psycho’s leading ladies and even Hopkins, who has been getting praise for this role, just doesn’t work either. Not once in this entire film did I think that I was truly watching Hitchcock before me; at all times, it was clear this was Hopkins’ rendition of the famous director and that just is never a good thing in a biopic (heck, just look at how lost Daniel Day-Lewis gets as the titular Lincoln by comparison and you’ll see what I’m talking about). Thank goodness for Helen Mirren, the Oscar winning legend who brings a fierce and determined edge to the always forgotten about Alma. The passion behind Mirren’s eyes in a few key scenes (especially a fight over mortgaging the house to fund the movie) brings the only sense of life into this otherwise dull biopic.
Ultimately, Hitchcock is just a wasted opportunity, a film that passes up on what could’ve been a startling inside look at the making of one of the most influential films of all time. I guess that’s the big problem: if you’re going to tackle one of the most iconic directors making one of the most iconic films, than you better bring your A game on every level, and Hitchcock’s problem is that it just coasts on being average. Sorry, but if there was anything Hitchcock never was, it was average!
Review by Zack Sharf