What happens when one of the most compelling figures in film history receives the ol' biopic treatment? Well, there's no hard and fast rules guiding the results, but in the case of Hitchcock, the outcome is a decidedly toothless affair, something that no one bothered to tell director Sacha Gervasi (Anvil: The Story of Anvil) and his cast, who seem to believe that they're pulling back the veil on a Hollywood master when, in fact, the plodding and all-too cautious plotting of Hitchcock undermines any chance of viewers being hooked into what little scandal (seriously, Hitch ate and drank too much and he liked blondes, is that all you got?) the film offers up.
Anchoring the more gossipy aspects of the narrative, we're given a supposedly inside look into Hitch's (Anthony Hopkins) marriage to his wife Alma (Helen Mirren). The film proposes that she inhabited a sizable role in sculpting his art, picking up at a moment when Alma is beginning to feel neglected leading to private strain within their relationship. At the same time, Hitch is struggling to get Psycho made, bristling against studio execs and censors who won't finance or clear the production for release.
The problem is that neither of these plot arcs are particularly well orchestrated. The romantic angle falls flat, as the characterization of Hitch and Alma's relationship is far too sketched out, and there's never a sense of danger in Alma's flirtations with writer Whitfield Cook (Danny Huston). As for the making of Psycho, the weight of history; the glaring fact being that Psycho was completed and became a massive success, significantly reduces the pressure within Hitch's situation, since it's impossible to simply forget or set aside knowledge of the film's eventual triumph and sustained influence.
Hitchcock ends up being less a disappointment than an unnecessary bit of nonsense. It's entertaining enough, all of the actors (with the glaring exception of the poorly cast Scarlett Johansson as Janet Leigh) offering up serviceable performances. Hopkins disappears the most into his role, although I found myself being hopelessly distracted at times by trying to figure out where the prosthetic chins ended and the real Anthony Hopkins began. And maybe that's the best way to characterize the film, it works as a reasonable distraction while falling considerably short as a worthy substitute for the genuine article.
Hitchcock opens at the Regal Fox Tower on Friday, December 7th. More info available here.
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