hitchcock

Think of Alfred Hitchcock and somewhere near the top of the list of things you’re likely to have pop into your head is going to be one particular movie. Even people who haven’t seen it are going to have an idea what you’re getting at if you make a YEEEE!! YEEEE! YEEEE!! noise and stabbing motion with your hand, although I suppose some must find this synonymous with Phoebe from Friends. Thankfully, Hitchcock has little, in fact nothing, to do with Phoebe from Friends and everything to do with Psycho and its director.

We pick up the story of Hitch and his screenwriter wife, Alma Reville (the wonderful Helen Mirren), shortly after the release of North by Northwest. The movie is a hit but the finicky press are demanding something new, suggesting that the old man has had his day. After a not exactly tiring search, Hitch happens upon a Robert Bloch novel inspired by the Wisconsin serial killer, Ed Gein. It’s a horrid tale of murder, incest and cross-dressing, not exactly high in the Hollywood list of prerequisites in the 1950s and despite Alma’s advice and alternative suggestion of a screenplay by Whitfield Cook, Hitchcock is determined that Psycho will prove his critics wrong.

The quality on screen is undeniable and Anthony Hopkins, prosthetics, paunch and all, does a very good impression of the great man. Arguably too good, for it’s a strangely cold affair where nothing feels at stake and nothing much feels connected, due in part to the awkwardness of Hitchcock’s character and mannerisms. Hitch and Alma have shared thirty years together at the time when Psycho was in production and while there is a hint of a professional history, there’s no shared emotion. Are we supposed to care that Alma may have an affair with Cook? Or that Hitch is going to try like a bear with Janet Leigh? Even if I didn’t know that these things didn’t happen, I’m not convinced I would have. Perhaps this is all accurately portrayed but if so, it leaves a very bland taste in the mouth.

Nor is there any jeopardy when it comes to the making of Psycho. Despite the hurdles in its path, we all know it’s going to be made and despite the initial reluctance of Paramount to give it a general release, we all know it’s going to be a massive success. There’s not even much in the way of tension in the search for the movie’s leading actors. Anthony Perkins (James D’Arcy) and Janet Leigh (Scarlett Johansson) more or less drop themselves into the respective roles.

So for a movie about the Master of Suspense, director Sacha Gervasi is not exactly sending pulses a-racing. The closest we come is when Hitch is visited by the ghost of Ed Gein who seems to appear to impart useful information, as I’m sure the imagined spectres of all serial killers are apt to do. It’s a brave step but ultimately a clumsy one as thanks to the reaction hidden beneath Hopkins’ rubber face, it never feels truly assured.

It’s not a bad movie, is pretty enough to look at and provides a handful of chuckles but given the talent on view in front of the camera, it could, and probably should have been much better.

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