Upon its announcement, Hitchcock immediately began to reserve its seats at the Kodak (um…. sorry, the Dolby) Theater. It’s a biopic with heavy pedigree in front of the camera. But leading up to its release there ended up being cracks in the road to the Oscars, including HBO released a film focusing on another aspect of the famous director’s career. But the most damning might just be the film itself. “Hitchcock” is a fun film, but for such a specific topic the film is all over the place.
It’s hard to tell exactly the right tone that director Sacha Gervasi is attempting to strike. There’s an off-kilter, dark comedy tone that comes through at times. But more times than not the material seems it would be better served by a darker, more serious tone to reflect the psychological effects that went on among the auteur and his cast. Black Swan screenwriter John McLaughlin also wrote Hitchcock, so we know he can go to the darker recesses of the mind when asked nicely.
The film revolves solely around the making of Psycho and when dealing with the movie making, the film is at its best. Despite an award worthy performance by Helen Mirren as wife Alma, the subplot of Hitch thinking his wife is cheating on him and his retreating into his mind for imaginary conversations with serial killer Ed Gein (whom Norman Bates is based) are time fillers and distractions from the main focus of the film. Perhaps because of these tangents, the film wraps up quickly upon the opening of “Psycho” with a few text slides before the closing credits serving to give proper closure.
Prior to its opening, Anthony Hopkins was the one dominating most awards talk. That has since quieted. If anyone has ever been unsure what the saying “chewing scenery” meant, you have to look no further that Hopkins’ performance here. He is a walking caricature with his over the top waddle to his over pronunciation while attempting to do get the director’s correct articulation.
Hitchcock offers a stellar supporting cast. Roles by Scarlett Johansson, as Janet Leigh, and Jessica Biel, as Vera Miles, are sorely underwritten. Biel suffers from barely any screen time, despite Miles and Hitchcock having a rocky history together that is summed up in a single monologue. Toni Collette, as Hitch’s long suffering secretary, does get a few good scenes. Yet, even she ends up as merely a background prop most of the time with an exacerbated look on her face.
The most fun to be had during the film is the tongue-in-cheek opening and closing to the film that is a play on the old introductions the director offered during his television. It offers up a macabre look at what the film might have been, but the film doesn't follow through on its promise. Hitchcock is merely a skin deep puncture wound for a topic who always knew the best way to deliver fatal blows.