Warped in its trajectory and bipolar in design, Hitchcock is a film with many intentions and limited appeal. Bouncing about as a marital drama to a thin reading on Alfred Hitchcock’s intent on making Psycho, Hitchcock seems content with its lacking ambition. And, generally speaking, it’s an inoffensive picture, albeit a slightly dull one. But after writing about some of Hitchcock’s work in my latest Thursday Ten, the most resonate aspect of Sacha Gervasi’s Hitchcock is how incredibly insignificant it is in delving into one of cinema’s greatest personalities.
Following the success of North by Northwest, Alfred Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins, donning several layers of makeup upon a prosthetic) finds himself having to finance a film that has limited support from family and friends. Gervasi and screenwriter John McLaughlin don’t delve too much into the insecurities and problems associated with the production of Psycho, but rather explore the marital difficulties between Hitchcock and his wife and writing partner, Alma Reville (Helen Mirren). Hitchcock largely treads tepid water, particularly given that the turmoil between the two rarely registers. Both Mirren and Hopkins are fine in their roles and serve the material better than most others would likely be able to, but it’s all so thin and simple.
Hitchcock’s other concerns, in the making of Psycho itself, is of greater interest but again, suffers from thinness and largely feels inconsequential to the other moving parts of the film. The casting and filming process that Hitchcock explores doesn’t offer much insight, but is one of those pleasant circumstances where anyone with a slight understanding of Hitchcock films would likely smirk. But the references is really all Gervasi is capable of providing, and one of two positive aspects of Hitchcock. The other aspect being the casting of Scarlett Johansson as Janet Leigh. While some may critique her acting abilities (an anomaly to me provided her excellent work in Ghost World, Lost in Translation, and Match Point, among others), she gives the finest performance in Hitchcock. Beaming and subdued, it’s a performance of understatement that bodes well against Hopkins’ showier work.
It’s all a bit of a lost cause though, as it’s forced praise for a film that really doesn’t have a lot going for it. Sacha Gervasi, who previously directed the documentary Anvil: The Story of Anvil, lacks the formal capabilities to unite his images together in any meaningful way. In one of the picture’s most bizarre scenes, Hitchcock is seen as a peeping tom, in a manner similar to Psycho’s Norman Bates. Yet the way the narrative is constructed, this display of sexual voyeurism has absolutely no repercussion moving forward. It’s a scene of no consequence and no insight – a comment that could be adjusted to describe Hitchcock as a whole.