DIR: Sacha Gervasi • WRI: John J. McLaughlin • PRO: Alan Barnette, Joe Medjuck, Tom Pollock , Ivan Reitman, Tom Thayer • DOP: Jeff Cronenweth • ED: Pamela Martin • DES: Judy Becker • CAST: Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Scarlett Johansson, Toni Collette, Michael Wincott, Jessica Alba, James D’Arcy
The year is 1959 and Alfred Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins) is the most famous movie director in the world – and he’s also fronting a highly-lucrative TV series too. But he’s getting on, too. Is it time for ‘Hitch’ to call it quits? Hitchcock is defiantly against retirement, and is in fact determined to break the mold on his next project – and the new book Psycho, based on the horrendous killings by cannibal murderer Ed Gein a few years before – seems to be just the thing to make audiences scream.
But the studio balks, the journalists are appalled, and the censors don’t like the violence and nudity one little bit. Hitchock discusses it with his ever-supportive power-behind-the-throne wife Alma (Helen Mirren) and they decide to bet the house – literally – on it being a success. Actress Janet Leigh (Scarlett Johansson) is hired, as is twitchy, handsome Anthony Perkins (James D’Arcy), and now all Hitch has to do is to make movie history; on time, on budget, and with a big box office to boot – or it’s curtains.
As we all know, Hitchcock managed to make Psycho the biggest-grossing movie of his career despite all the heavy pressures and problems, and certainly shook things up like he wanted to as well. So it’s a crying shame then that the movie showing that intense period in his life fails on almost every level to do anything but be dramatic and intense.
Hitch – a complex and problematic man who often obsessed over his blonde leading ladies – stays virtually unexplored here, and the man himself is probably spinning in his grave to see one of his biggest triumphs – and the players involved – reduced to such clichéd and ham-fisted pap.
The blame has to be left at the feet of the director, Sacha Gervasi, whose previous directing credit was a documentary about a washed-up heavy metal band and writing the Steven Spielberg misfire The Terminal (he’s also the father of a daughter with ‘Ginger Spice’ Geri Halliwell).
Aside from obvious transitions he offers nothing new here, and with a woefully lazy and shallow script from John J. McLaughlin (credits include Black Swan and 2005 Tommy Lee Jones comedy (!) Man of the House) it’s not hard to see how this cast, which really is to kill for, is almost utterly wasted.
Mirren tries very hard to wring some emotion out of the limpest of exposition and on-the-nose dialogue while Michael Wincott is creepy as Ed Gein, but Hopkins, with his purple lips and a chin so fake you can always see the seam, seems to capture nothing of man so apparently cruel but also prone to jokes (his one scene where Hitchcock comes to life, waiting nervously outside the theater at the Psycho premiere) is the only spark that lights.
It’s problematic too that the movie never decides truly what it wants to be: a straight biopic, a comedic look at the world of movies, or a dark horror/drama – the latter especially being a misstep, what with Hitch seeing/dreaming/taking advice from Gein, a kind of ghost in this story, who urges him to follow his… well, urges.
So overall it’s a huge disappointment to see one of the most famous auteurs be heralded in a way that neither pays homage to his work, nor himself, nor allows the actors to take on a juicy role, and you wonder how this writer and director were chosen for the movie, when there were surely others who would have wished to pay tribute.
You’d probably be better off checking out the BBC/HBO co-production The Girl, which was about the nasty relationship between Hitchcock and Tippi Hendren during the making of his next movie, The Birds. It stars Toby Jones as Hitch, Sienna Miller as Hedren and Imelda Staunton as Alma, and seemed much more prepared to dig deep and look at the real man, not just the sanitized, deadpan TV series presenter.