What could have been an intriguing look at how Alfred Hitchcock created one of his most iconic masterpieces is instead turned into a gently entertaining romp. We may enjoy watching the twists and turns as this troubled project takes shape, but the script simply never breaks the surface or gives its stars any real depth to play with. So in the end, the most engaging thing about the film ends up being the portrayal of Hitchcock's marriage.
The story starts with the 1959 premiere of North by Northwest, a hit that critics dismissed as more of the same from a master resting on his laurels. So Hitchcock (Hopkins) decides to give them something unexpected, and takes his first foray into horror based on the little-known novel Psycho, a fictionalised story about a real serial killer. Working closely with his wife Alma (Mirren) on every aspect of the film, he is in constant conflict with the studio chief (Portnow) and the chief censor (Smith), who both believe the material is too strong. Meanwhile, Alma is tired of him flirting with his leading ladies (Johansson and Biel), so she takes a side job with a writer (Huston) who wants to be more than friends.
Oddly, neither director Gervasi (Anvil) nor writer McLaughlin (Black Swan) seems interested in getting beneath the surface of their central character, so Hitchcock is little more than the jovial caricature we saw in his TV anthology series. Hiding under layers of prosthetic face and body fat, Hopkins is good but never seems to break a sweat in the role. Which leaves Mirren to steal the film as Alma, mainly by departing from reality to create a more intriguing movie character instead. And Collette adds some spice as Hitchcock's assistant. But as the cast of Psycho, Johansson (as Janet Leigh), Biel (Vera Miles) and D'Arcy (Anthony Perkins) are only given small details to define them, which leaves them lurking uninterestingly around the edges.
What's left is an engaging look at how the film industry worked in the late-1950s, and still does today with heated negotiations between artists, producers, studio bosses and censors. That anything with integrity like Psycho made it through this maze is a miracle. But then, today we also have focus groups to water everything down much further. And perhaps that's what happened to this film, from its bland title to the rounding-off of Alfred Hitchcock's prickly, edgy genius.
Run time: 98 mins
In Theaters: Friday 14th December 2012
Box Office USA: $6.0M
Box Office Worldwide: $6M
Distributed by: Fox Searchlight Pictures
Production compaines: Montecito Picture Company, The, Fox Searchlight Pictures, Twentieth Century Fox
Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 62%
Fresh: 121 Rotten: 74
IMDB: 6.9 / 10
Director: Sacha Gervasi
Screenwriter: John J. McLaughlin
Starring: Anthony Hopkins as Alfred Hitchcock, Helen Mirren as Alma Reville, Scarlett Johansson as Janet Leigh, James D'Arcy as Anthony Perkins, Jessica Biel as Vera Miles, Michael Stuhlbarg as Lew Wasserman, Ralph Macchio as Joe Stefano, Toni Collette as Peggy Robertson, Danny Huston as Whitfield Cook, Michael Wincott as Ed Gein, Kurtwood Smith as Geoffrey Shurlock, Judith Hoag as Lillian, Currie Graham as Flack, Wallace Langham as Saul Bass