Some bad movies feel like the result of unfulfilled potential, something that was close to working if this or that had fallen just slightly a different way. And then there are projects like Hitchcock that seem so tragically misguided from the outset that it’s perplexing no one saw the need to put it out of its misery.
It’s a small favor that, unlike many artistic profiles, this one isn’t an attempt at soup-to-nuts biography. Instead, it focuses on just one year in the life of legendary director Alfred Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins), circa 1959-1960. At the peak of his success with North by Northwest, Hitchcock is hungry for a distinctive premise that can show he’s not creatively over the hill. He finds it in Robert Bloch’s little-known novel Psycho, and he’s determined to make it his next film—assuming he can convince studio bosses and censors that the risky material will work.
And it certainly ended up working better than this mish-mash, which attempts to combine the relationship between Hitchcock and his wife, Alma (Helen Mirren), with a faint nod to the idea that personal demons might have driven the filmmaker, represented by his imagined interactions with serial killer (and inspiration for Psycho) Ed Gein. Neither one works particularly well, as director Sacha Gervasi doesn’t delve deeply either into Alma’s need to develop her own career as a writer, or into Hitchcock as a troubled genius as it glosses over his complicated relationships with his leading ladies.
What remains is a silly trifle built almost entirely around the idea that Hopkins could create a vivid character beyond the fat-suit prosthetics. Yet he too lands in an ineffective middle ground between impersonation and unique interpretation. He adds little charisma to a story that feels like the thinnest possible film version of a book of Psycho trivia.
Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Scarlett Johansson