Directed by Sacha Gervasi
Release: 8 February 2013 (UK)
At the height of his fame as the Master of Suspense, Alfred Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins) risks everything in making a film of Robert Bloch’s thriller Psycho…
This movie is the second pseudo-biopic of Alfred Hitchcock released in the past six months, and while it has the big star names and is enjoying the stamp of approval of a wide cinema release, this version pales significantly in comparison to the earlier TV movie The Girl starring Toby Jones as the director (screened in October in the US, at Christmas in the UK).
At the core of these films is the imitation of Alfred Hitchcock, a figure so well known to most moviegoers from his publicity work and to the wider public through his introductions to the classic twist-in-the-tale TV series Alfred Hitchcock Presents… Everyone interested in seeing this film knows exactly what Hitchcock looked like and sounded like. In that respect alone, Anthony Hopkins fails miserably where Toby Jones succeeded magnificently.
Despite the fat suit and the weird facial make-up, it is still clearly Hopkins under there. The character on screen that is supposed to be Hitchcock just looks and sounds like Anthony Hopkins, whereas—as with so many of his roles, in particular his Truman Capote—Toby Jones lost himself within the Hitchcock persona and was therefore so much more convincing.
The portrayal of Hitchcock’s supportive and creative wife Alma is also key. The Girl had Imelda Staunton, an actress about the right height and demeanour to match Hitchcock’s closest creative collaborator. This movie has given in to the imperative to cast a star, so the much taller and less mousy Helen Mirren plays the role, and completely fails to inhabit it. In fact, she seems to be in an entirely different film at times.
The one plus point in the casting is Scarlett Johansson as Janet Leigh. In so many of her film appearances Johansson is great to look at, but simply can’t act for toffee. Here, at least, she does a great job.
Then there’s the story, in which Hitchcock is spooked by the ghostly presence of Ed Gein, the serial killer inspiration for Robert Bloch’s schlocky novel. This is a well-worn storytelling technique that can be used cleverly, but here it simply falls flat and serves little purpose. Similarly, Alma is given a potential love interest in Danny Huston’s frustrated writer Whitfield Cook—something most real-life accounts of the making of Psycho suggest has little basis in reality—but it also goes nowhere and sheds little light on the background to the making of the movie.
As with The Girl (where The Birds and Hitchcock’s fascination with Tippi Hedren was the focus), Hitchcock is strongest in its recreation of the making of Psycho, with intricately duplicated settings, and fine (if brief) turns by James D’Arcy as a twitchy Anthony Perkins (who is actually more Norman Bates than Perkins), and good support by Toni Collette as Hitchcock’s long-suffering personal assistant. Where The Girl had a dramatic point in exposing Hitchcock’s unpleasant side while still celebrating his filmmaking genius, this movie seems to have little worth other than to blandly chronicle the making of a very important film in Hitchcock’s ouvre. In that, and most other respects, the earlier The Girl wins the war of the Hitchcock biopics hands down.
Verdict: All surface and little depth, Hitchcock is an impersonation that fails to convince. 5/10
Brian J. Robb