“That, my dear, is why they call me the Master of Suspense.”
Based on a book by the film writer and Hitchcock expert Stephen Rebello Hitchcock deals with the production of Psycho and the director’s battles with the studios to get the film made. To be honest I was dreading Hitchcock fearing another My Week with Marilyn (2011, Simon Curtis) debacle with famous actors giving awkward impersonations of film stars from days gone past and there is an element of that here. Neither Anthony Hopkins or Scarlett Johansson remotely resemble Hitchcock or Janet Leigh respectively. Hopkins gets the voice and mannerisms right but you never feel for a moment you are watching anything other than a performance. James D’Arcy however is a great fit for Anthony Perkins if a decade to old for the delicate tormented star but it is a lovely performance though sadly he’s only in a handful of scenes.
Another problem is the lack of drama present in this story. Hitchcock’s approach to making Psycho may have been unusual but it is not extraordinary. The attempts to portray Hitchcock as a busted flush and a tired old man don’t ring true. There was conflict yes with the studio but not overly so and nobody died during production. Hitchcock’s marketing of the film was ingenious but doesn’t really come across here. Yet despite these flaws Hitchcock has a playfulness which carries it even though I suspect you would learn more about the Master of Suspense’s approach to directing Psycho by watching Gus Van Sant’s much maligned but fascinating shot-by-shot remake.
Hitchcock opens with notoriously insane Ed Gein killing his own brother. Robert Bloch’s novel ‘Psycho’ is a salacious adaptation of Gein’s life. A mummy’s boy who became increasingly disturbed after her death, Gein began to exhume corpses from his local graveyard to use their body parts for household objects. Eventually Gein murdered at least two more people. Gein (Michael Wincott) reappears throughout Hitchcock as a manifestation of Hitch’s id and it is a pity director Sacha Gervasi doesn’t take more risks rather than the conventional biopic approach the rest of the film follows. John J. McLaughlin’s screenplay is more interested in the relationship between Hitchcock and his wife Alma (Helen Mirren) and her importance as a producer which is fine but the scenes of them sniping at each other over breakfast turn the middle part of the film into a domestic chore.
While there is a gallows humour Hitch would have approved of McLaughlin and Gervasi never delve deep into his psyche or offer much insight into the creative process. The obsession with Hitchcock’s leading ladies is dealt with briefly but not with the same relish as the recent HBO TV movie The Girl which was undone by the ludicrous casting of Toby Jones and the faux classiness that has infected that channel’s recent output (Game of Thrones apart). Hitchcock is better value but if you’re really interested I’d recommend reading Rebello’s Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho instead.