More shallow soap opera than brainy biopic

It becomes evident fairly early on that Hitchcock will not, rather disappointingly, be the biopic that we are promised in the trailer – as can so often be the case. There’s barely a single film about an artist that doesn’t follow the usual formula of taking one of the said artist’s relationships and dissecting it, often largely ignoring the body of artwork that has brought them to our attention in the first place. Even the brilliant Francis Bacon biopic Love Is The Devil by John Maybury (1998) is guilty of this crime. Hopkins himself has starred in several such films, most notably Surviving Picasso, the Merchant Ivory production in which he shines as the eponymous painter/sculptor/ceramicist.

Predictably in Hitchcock, we have less ‘The Making of Psycho’ – or at least what there is of that is largely perfunctory – and more something that might have been retitled ‘Alma and Alfie’. Admittedly the artist and his muse were often inseparable, which this film would have us believe is the case here. World-renowned film legend Alfred Hitchcock (Hopkins) met Alma Reville (Mirren) when she was a successful editor and he was working as a lowly assistant. At the time, she was his boss, as we discover during the course of the film. Their turbulent relationship and subsequent love quadrangle featuring writer Whitfield Cook (Huston) and Hitch’s leading lady Janet Leigh (Johansson) form the main body of the film. A shame, then, that it’s all so anaemic.

 

The catalyst for the film’s events begin with a premiere screening of Hitchcock’s North By Northwest, after which a member of the press asks Hitchcock if it isn’t time, at the age of 60, to be retiring his megaphone for good. Hitch decides that this is the consequence of Hitchcock ‘branding’: all the things that the name Hitchcock has become synonymous with. It was time to make a new kind of film: something unpredictable, something unexpected. Intrigued by the story of notorious serial killer Ed Gein, as it was being reported, Hitch soon happens across Robert Bloch’s novel ‘Psycho’, from which the fictional story is derived. Convinced that this should be his next project when all those around him are in doubt, Hitch has to finance the film himself, even going so far as to remortgage his house. Like everyone else, his wife Alma remains unconvinced by the material, but has faith in the man himself. Portrayed here as a mountain of support for the great director, Hitchcock’s wife, as we’re led to believe, was an active partner in his filmmaking – from advising him financially to rewriting scripts. During the shoot, when the stress becomes too much for Hitch, she orders him to his sickbed and heads down to the studio to take charge of the situation.

 

Hopkins and Mirren both play their roles with relish – when they’re allowed to. There’s a touching scene early on when Hitch talks of their early experimental filmmaking days by way of asking for Alma’s support on Psycho, to which she concedes, clearly against her better judgment. Here the actors’ chemistry and their characters’ mutual respect shines through the uninspired writing. Much of the film plays like this: Hopkins and Mirren do their damnedest to elevate a mediocre script with their considerable combined acting arsenal, but alas – despite managing to inspire the occasional smile, even firepower as admirable as theirs cannot disguise material that would fail spectacularly in the hands of lesser talent.

 

Instead of perhaps delving into Hitch’s fascination with the Ed Gein story, showing us something of why the filmmaker was drawn to the material (what was Hitchcock’s relationship with his mother?) the script is content to languish on the surface of things, in an ultimately dull, lightweight, soap opera exposé of Hitch’s private life.

 

Hitchcock

Dir: Sascha Gervasi; US drama, 2012, 98 mins; Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Scarlett Johansson, Danny Huston, Toni Collette
Premiered February 21
Playing nationwide

 





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