Alfred Hitchcock might just be the most famous director of all time. His works, now many decades old are still looked upon with great fondness and you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t like any of his back catalogue. Hitchcock has a reputation that is at least, partly based in reality, for punishing his leading actresses to get the best performances out of them, there are however only scattered reports about his behaviour behind the camera. Those hoping for a gritty, in-depth look at his inner demons in Hitchcock are going to be disappointed.
The biopic follows Hitchcock’s (Anthony Hopkins) personal life during the making of perhaps his most memorable film Psycho in 1959 and 1960, notably his relationship with his wife Alma Reville (Helen Mirren) and his obsession with his latest ‘Hitchcock blonde’ Janet Leigh (Scarlett Johannson). After the critical success of North-by-North-West, Hitchcock can’t help but focus on the negative reviews that imply that he has lost his edge as a director. Keen to prove these critics wrong he chooses a book called Psycho by Robert Bloch, which is based on the infamous murderer Ed Gein. Initially struggling to find financing, he takes a loan out against his home and funds it himself. However the pressure of making Psycho causes a rift to appear between Hitchcock and Alma that pushes her closer to Whitfield Cook (Danny Huston).
While Anthony Hopkins may seem an odd choice for the rotund Hitchcock, the excellent make-up and wonderful talent of the actor help to transform him completely. It takes a few minutes for him to get stuck in, but when he does you forget that he is actually an actor. The same can be said of Helen Mirren, who is as charming, spirited and engaging as ever. She shows the duality of a vulnerable yet strong-will companion to the sometimes mean Hitchcock. There is however, not nearly enough of the darker side of the man within. Too often does Hitchcock drift aimlessly away from potential dramatic showdowns and insists upon following a dull sub-plot surrounding Alma and Whitfield Cook.
The are some nice moments highlighting Hitchcock immersing himself in his subject matter as he has conversations in his dreams with Ed Gein. These lead to the tantalising proposition of a full-blown breakdown as the tension slowly begins to mount. Then however there are moments of sweet cathartic resolution that dissipate the drama and resort to a styilised view of Hollywood at the time, with caricatured performances around the edge. It’s frustrating to see a film with so much potential resorting to simplistic entertainment methods and in the same way that The Iron Lady refused to delve into possible discussion of these problems, Hitchcock just swims along to another clunky foreshadowing of things to come.
Using Hitchcock-inspired score with darkly comic moments throughout, the film does allude to Hitchcock’s best work. However, much like the character fears that he is losing his edge, Hitchcock the film has already lost it. A fluffy look at the man, with too much attention paid to side stories in lieu of actually dramatic thrust, it is left up to Hopkins and Mirren to save the day with two performances that completely transform them into the genius pairing that oversaw so many masterpieces during their heyday. Those hoping for a glimpse into the real world of Hitchcock or a breakdown of the filming process of one of the best horrors of all time are going to be disappointed. What’s left then is a run-of-the-mill comedy-drama, with some great performances that is is fun but lacks any real bite.