Alfred Hitchcock is, without question, the cinematic master of suspense. His films, ranging from espionage thrillers like North by Northwest to genre-bending horror flicks like The Birds, were entertaining without ever pandering to the audience and their expectations. He was a fixture for years in the American household with his Alfred Hitchcock Presents television program that was a macabre twist on The Twilight Zone. Innumerable biographies have been written about him and plenty more about his work. Little is unknown about the influential filmmaker but his story has never itself been translated to the screen. That, then, is the goal of director Sacha Gervasi: Illuminate the character of the man during his transition from a good storyteller to a great artist. What he has crafted is a darkly-comedic homage—well made, sure, but a great original movie would have been a better way to honor Hitchcock.
Anthony Hopkins stars as the titular Hitchcock as he plans his next project, Psycho, based loosely on the story of Wisconsin serial killer Ed Gein. While he doesn’t do an impersonation of the larger-than-life figure Hopkins channels the spirit of a man whose appetites threaten to control him. Food and drink, yes, but a lust for women also hurts the control freak Hitchcock.
The real news of this film is not the well-worn story of the making of Psycho. Instead the reveal is the impact Hitchcock’s wife Alma Reville (Helen Mirren) on his life and work. Herself a screenwriter, Alma shied away from the spotlight (or was forced out by a press hungry for her husband) but her impact was felt in most all of Hitchcock’s films.
Hitchcock is a frustrating film. Little more than a 90-minute cocktail party anecdote, it features great performances from the lead actors and few memorable moments from the supporting cast. Just when the filmmakers begin to break into something interesting, like Hitchcock’s voyeurism, they cut to something pedestrian. Still, it’s the kind of masturbatory, self-referential picture Hollywood loves so it’ll probably receive some Oscar attention.
Hitchcock isn’t a bad movie; it’s just scattered and inconsistent. Part character study and part period drama, all Hitchcock did for me was remind me that there are much better movies I could spend time watching. The master himself probably would have enjoyed the flick but it’s not particularly memorable.
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