Not bad, but too often fudges the historical truth. Hitchcock is about the legendary filmmaker whom, peeved at his critics who said he was losing his touch, decided to self-fund the ultimate artistic slasher movie: “Psycho.” Here’s a biopic, with Anthony Hopkins wryly mobile under latex, that takes a look at one year of the master of suspense, Alfred Hitchcock’s life. Yet I wondered why they didn’t make a movie about Hitchcock’s golden era: “Vertigo” was made in 1958 and “North by Northwest” in ’59. This biopic only brief mentions them, the former a misunderstood vanity project and the latter a triumphant box office smash. What’s emphasized here is the balance of work and marriage with his editor/collaborator Alma (Helen Mirren), who was off co-writing, eh, flirting with another man (Danny Huston) – that made Hitchcock jealous.
Likewise, Alma was jealous of Hitchcock’s leading ladies. Some of the best scenes of this teasing tit for tat biopic are of Hitchcock flattering and mentoring Janet Leigh (Scarlett Johansson), as well as Vera Miles (Jessica Biel). Perhaps because if Hitchcock couldn’t have them, he could at least be a daddy figure to them which is an ego boost. The making of the famous shower sequence of “Psycho” is re-created here, and you get a goosebump sense that Hitchcock felt badly about scaring a great performance out of Miss Leigh.
Certainly there are other gleeful moments in watching “Psycho” coming to life, but it’s all too disappointing with what gets left out. James D’Arcy is an accurate dolt as Anthony Perkins, or perhaps just coy about sex as a means to hide his own “deviant” sexuality. The studio head attempts artless interference and removes their support. But the focus comes down to Hitchcock’s annoyance that his wife was less and less available at home. Scenes of Hitchcock talking to an imaginary Ed Gein (Michael Wincott), the serial killer who was the inspiration behind Norman Bates, are unnecessary. It suggests a schizophrenia Hitchcock never was diagnosed of having. But the real reason it’s there is so that a movie like this one has quasi-complexity window dressing.
The big man and his wife naturally get back on track with each other after “Psycho” wraps. Every great artist has his doubts, but that Hitchcock feared his pet project was a failure is too much an exaggeration. This is a stately and polished biopic that is affable enough, with some fine acting and some scant behavioral shadings. It’s simply too little a fragment docudrama of a great man’s career. I did not mind what I saw, but I just wanted more from it. But the ending is a nifty nod to the art of Hitchcock’s flair for self-promotion.
98 Minutes. Rated PG-13.
BIOGRAPHICAL DRAMA / MILD / FALL SCHOLASTICS
Film Cousins: “Peeping Tom” (1960, Britain); “Psycho” (1960); “Ed Wood” (1994); “Gods and Monsters” (1998).