Biopic is Hitchcock light where it needs to be heavy

Courtesy PhotoWorking life: Helen Mirren and Anthony Hopkins star in “Hitchcock.” The not entirely satisfying bio-drama is about the master director

Courtesy PhotoWorking life: Helen Mirren and Anthony Hopkins star in “Hitchcock.” The not entirely satisfying bio-drama is about the master director

“What if someone really good made a horror picture?”

That’s the enticing proposition Alfred Hitchcock puts forth in the new biopic “Hitchcock,” a dramedy about the making of the movie “Psycho,” the director’s risky, triumphant fusion of terror and art.

Directed by Sacha Gervasi (“Anvil!”), from a screenplay by John J. McLaughlin (adapting Stephen Rebello’s “Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho”), the movie is a celebrity profile combined with a love story centering on Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins, heavily padded) and his longtime wife and artistic collaborator, Alma Reville (Helen Mirren).

Enjoyable on the surface, it’s lightweight where it requires darkness and depth.

Mixing commonly known facts, credible speculation and wrongheaded fabrication, the film begins with a 60-year-old Hitchcock, despite experiencing huge success on both the big screen (“North by Northwest”) and small (“Alfred Hitchcock Presents”), fearing he has become old-hat.

Yearning for a challenge, he decides to film “Psycho,” Robert Bloch’s slasher novel, despite the prevailing view that the story is lurid trash.

The underdog project requires that Hitchcock and Reville come up with their own financing, and Hitch must battle studio bosses and censors (though the latter seem more worried about showing a toilet onscreen than the famed shower scene).

Hitchcock nearly unravels from the strain, but the effort pays off. Premiering in 1960, “Psycho” is a smash.

The movie is watchable. It is peppered with familiar Hitchcockisms (“It’s only a movie”) and has engaging interactions between Hopkins and Mirren, and a sunny Scarlett Johansson as leading lady Janet Leigh.

It has engaging fun with Hitch’s spooky aspects and acknowledges contributions from the often uncredited Reville, editor, writer and creative adviser on Hitchcock’s films.

Yet it remains too superficial to enable viewers to believe the man onscreen is the same person who directed penetrating thrillers such as “Vertigo” or “Shadow of a Doubt.”

Rather than seriously exploring the interior of the notoriously impenetrable Hitchcock, the movie presents his obsession, suspicion and voyeurism (he’s like a composite of his Jimmy Stewart characters) via shallow devices.

For example, his fixation with “contract blondes” has him spying on “Psycho” co-star Vera Miles (Jessica Biel) through a peephole.

Hitchcock’s hallucinatory visions of killer Ed Gein (Michael Wincott), the real-life inspiration for Norman Bates, too, are impossible to buy.

Hopkins is good with Hitchcock’s trademark macabre humor, but the movie’s breezy approach gives him little chance to get into the director’s head.

Mirren, as always, is stellar, but she plays a sketchily defined character who is little more than long-suffering, talented and seemingly flawless.

The underused supporting cast includes Toni Collette as Hitchcock’s assistant Peggy Robertson, Michael Stuhlbarg as agent Lew Wasserman and James D’Arcy as “Psycho” star Anthony Perkins.

Anthony HopkinsartsentertainmentHelen MirrenMovies

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

The sidewalk on Egbert Avenue in the Bayview recently was cluttered with car parts, tires and other junk. <ins>(Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)</ins>
New surveillance effort aims to crack down on illegal dumping

’We want to make sure we catch people who are trashing our streets’

The recall election for California Gov. Gavin Newsom is scheduled for Sept. 14. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)
SF could play a big role in overcoming Democrat apathy, driving voter turnout for Newsom

San Francisco voters are not used to swaying elections. Just think of… Continue reading

Health care workers treat a Covid-19 patient who needs to be intubated before being put on a ventilator at Providence St. Mary Medical Center during a surge of cases in Apple Valley, Dec. 17, 2020. Confronted with surging infections, California became the first state in the country to mandate coronavirus vaccines or testing for state employees and health-care workers. (Ariana Drehsler/The New York Times)
In California, a mix of support and resistance to new vaccine rules

By Shawn Hubler, Livia Albeck-Ripka and Soumya Karlamangla New York Times SACRAMENTO… Continue reading

Dave Hodges, pastor at Zide Door, the Church of Entheogenic Plants that include marijuana and psilocybin mushrooms, holds some psychedelic mushrooms inside the Oakland church on Friday, July 22, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)
Psychedelic spirituality: Inside a growing Bay Area religious movement

‘They are guiding us into something ineffable’

Most Read