In 1959, Alfred Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins) set out to make the follow up to North by Northwest; Psycho. The trouble is, Paramount Pictures don’t want the film, the Censors are unhappy and Alma (Helen Mirren), Hitchcock’s wife, was distracted.
Based on Stephen Rebello’s book, Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho, Hitchcock sets out to… Well, tell the story of how Psycho was made. There is definitely an interesting story in there, but for some reason the decision was made to focus on the relationship between Hitch and his wife – and her distraction by a handsome, caring man – rather than how the director gave the Hollywood cinema industry a kick in the pants.
Anthony Hopkins has had a patchy run of late, and it seems that his performance as Alfred Hitchcock may well be one of his lows. Hopkins has captured the look of the character through some seriously dodgy make up and a huge fat suit – fair enough, this is not his fault – but he has reduced the director to a bully and a bit of a perv. The scene that was awarded Best Scene by ST Louis Film Critics is well intentioned, but frankly embarrassing, as is the decision to have Hopkins break the fourth wall and address the audience at the start and end of the film. This may have been a favoured technique of the director in his TV career, but it does not work here.
Helen Mirren does a little better as Alma Reville; she is warm and charming, but her wig is so distracting that it is hard to take your eyes off it. As well as this, while Alma may be well rounded and relatable, the central couple have been reduced to a bickering and snarky pair that would not be out of place in a sitcom.
Scarlett Johansson, for what little time she is on screen as Janet Leigh, is sweet but fairly bland. The exception is her fantastic reaction while filming Psycho’s famous shower scene where she looks genuinely terrified. It’s just a shame that her wig is so terrible that her fright could well have been from catching a glimpse of herself in the mirror. Poor old Jessica Biel is so sidelined as to be nearly invisible. The same goes for Toni Colette.
If there is one thing that Hitchcock is not, it’s subtle. The title character frequently converses with the inspiration for Psycho, Ed Gein, although it is not clear whether he is insane, dreaming or running a fever. Or all three. As well as this, those who have not seen Psycho in a while may find themselves confused; is Ed Gein the man running the motel? Is it he, not Norman Bates, that stabs Scarlett Johansson in the shower? Is his dead mother in the bedroom? Did he kill his brother? It is true that this film is not about Psycho, and the Ed Gein case was an inspiration for Psycho, but it feels as though the film’s original story was replaced for no good reason.
Director Sascha Gervasi’s first film, Anvil: The Story of Anvil, was heart warming and carefully crafted. The same cannot be said for Hitchcock. There is barely a piece of scenery that is not chewed by Hopkins as he imitates the title character and the story is muddled and muddling. Thankfully, the running time is neat.
Making the relationship between Alma and Hitchcock was the biggest failing of a film that could have been a fascinating examination of how Hitchcock reinvented and revitalised the Hollywood studio system. Instead, the film is about a couple squabbling over a film about a guy who killed his brother… Right? Hopkins chews his way through the scenery and Mirren and Johansson do their best under terrible wigs.