Movie review: Anthony Hopkins as Hitchcock ain’t half bad
Attempting to profile Alfred Hitchcock in a 98-minute movie is akin to having a death wish. You’d be better off getting your eyes pecked out a la Suzanne Pleshette in “The Birds.” But first-time feature director Sacha Gervasi gives it a whirl anyway. And guess what? His “Hitchcock” ain’t half bad. Shallow and totally unnecessary, but not bad. And that’s saying something, considering Oscar-winners Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren are so woefully miscast as Hitch and his wife and chief collaborator, Alma Reville.
Despite being buried under prosthetics and enough padding to stuff a king-size mattress, Hopkins is fooling no one with his lame impersonation of history’s most famed director. He makes a half-hearted attempt at latching onto that distinctive speech pattern, but pretty much cedes it a couple scenes in, reverting to just being Tony in a cheesy Hitch getup. Mirren, however, is sensational as Alma, the woman who was invaluable to her husband when it came to casting, editing and polishing scripts. But she is simply too tall and beautiful to portray a woman as short and dowdy as Alma, leaving Mirren’s fine performance straining credulity.
What saves it is a script by John J. McLaughlin (co-writer of “Black Swan”) that is irresistibly light and airy in its chronicling of the dozen or so months in which Hitch’s biggest hit, “Psycho,” was conceived, shot and premiered to worldwide acclaim. McLaughlin and Gervasi (an Oscar-winner for “Anvil! The Story of Anvil”) wisely incorporate a “let’s put on a show” vibe that finds Hitch and Alma battling naysayers, vindictive actors and meddling studio chiefs in their dogged pursuit of doing something no one had ever done: an arty horror picture.
If, like me, you’re well-versed in every triviality about “Psycho,” you’ll find “Hitchcock” rather stingy with its revelations. About the only thing I didn’t know was that Hitch hated Bernard Herrmann’s startling staccato score that accompanies the film’s famous shower scene. The rest is pretty common knowledge, including Hitch’s bitter feud with Vera Miles, played by Jessica Biel in yet another bit of curious casting. In fact, the insight is so short, McLaughlin is compelled to invent a potentially dangerous flirtation between Alma and fellow screenwriter Whitfield Cook (Danny Huston). That, plus serial killer Ed Gein (the real-life inspiration for Norman Bates) making guest appearances in Hitch’s dreams, are too ridiculous to believe, making the film’s steady stream of humor ever more invaluable.
And, boy, is “Hitchcock” funny, which should come as no surprise to anyone who grew up watching Hitch’s hilarious intros to his weekly TV anthology show. Not only was he the master of suspense, he was the master of deadpan humor. My favorite moment, though, is the sight of a rotund Hitch hitching a ride with his gorgeous leading lady, Janet Leigh (very well played by Scarlett Johansson), in her tiny Volkswagen Beetle. Still, I could have done without the cheap, homophobic jokes about Anthony Perkins (nicely portrayed by an effete James D’Arcy). Same for the smug shots the film takes at legendary studio boss Barney Balaban (Richard Portnow), who is made to look foolish for doubting that “Psycho” would ever become anything more than what he labeled “s—t.” Ah, ain’t hindsight grand?
What does ring true about “Hitchcock” is the devotion and respect underscoring Hitch and Alma’s partnership, on and off the soundstage. They were one of Hollywood’s all-time great couples. And despite all the dirt the movie flings at them, their love remains a beacon that never fails to shine through.
HITCHCOCK (PG-13) Cast includes Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Jessica Biel, Danny Huston and Scarlett Johansson.