Film review: Hitchcock (12A)
IN A NUTSHELL
An amusing take on Alfred Hitchcock is over-reliant on non-existent menace and barely-there suspense.
Standing outside the auditorium of one of the few screens where Psycho was allowed to play, an arm-waving Alfred Hitchcock conducts the audience within.
Listening through the door, he raises them to a crescendo of screams, he cues the stabbing violins and punches in the next round of screeching. He is in total command of his material, total command of his audience.
The same cannot be said for the enjoyable but disjointed Hitchcock, which tells of the making of his seminal film and his relationship with Alma Reville, his underappreciated wife and collaborator.
The book on which this movie is based is an exhaustive slog through the creative process and the producers admitted the first challenge was to bring a tautness to the work.
Perhaps they should have stuck to the index and a few footnotes. Writer John J McLaughlin and director Sacha Gervasi try different avenues into the core of the story but never have the courage of their convictions.
The dry, droll humorous approach is by far the most effective - it is in keeping with Hitchcock's delicious black humour - but others come and go like the fridge Post-Its of a hesitant therapist.
We have some nightmare sequences, a suggestion of paranoia, pseudo madness, conversations with a phantom Ed Gein, (the real-life model for Norman Bates) but Hitch doesn't lend himself to a dark Lector-type investigation (even though Anthony Hopkins is on hand to provide voice and menace).
That is not to say the film is not fun. It's tremendous fun. But not fun for long enough or often enough.
Anthony Hopkins bathes in the role of the most famous director in movieland, licking his rubbery lips at the prospect of taking on the Hollywood establishment. The behind-the-scenes stuff is invested with period charm, authenticity and insight.
Scarlett Johansson as Janet Leigh and Jessica Biel as Vera Miles go mad in the dressing-up box and the nod and a wink to the audience is delightfully played with the director addressing us, the cinema audience, as he would before his TV specials.
With Hopkins dumping words like they're cockney tree stumps, Helen Mirren has to do the heavy-lifting on the acting front. As usual, she is superb, with the right level of brittle schoolma'am weariness.
Together they are great too. The chemistry suggests a long marriage, forgiving and scornful. The script tries to suggest dark undercurrents and psychological complexity but from the outside it looks very much like garden variety over-familiarity.
Hitchcock once said: "Film should be stronger than reason." Someone thought way too hard about this.