Alfred Hitchcock used to denigrate the work of his less-visionary fellow filmmakers as “photographs of people talking.” If he could see the pair of films about his life that recently landed simultaneously on the big and small screens, Hitch would probably be less offended that they depict him as a cruel, blonde-obsessed, stress-eating egotist than by the fact that they do so with such an utter lack of cinematic style. Sacha Gervasi’s Hitchcock is the one that stars Sir Anthony Hopkins in a prominent false nose that only Orson Welles could love and focuses on the making of Psycho (the second, HBO’s The Girl, features perennial other-guy-playing-the-same-role Toby Jones as the other guy playing Hitch as he torments Tippi Hedren).
Gervasi, previously responsible for the entertaining heavy-metal doc Anvil! The Story of Anvil, falls into the typical biopic trap of allowing the most salacious details of his subject’s life to eclipse those facets that made him worthy of attention in the first place. Here, it’s the great director’s marital strife, which leads to scenes of Hopkins squirrelled away with a cache of 8-by-10 glossies of blonde starlets while his wife is wooed by an ambitious screenwriter played by Danny Huston. Helen Mirren is typically fine as Hitch’s wife, Alma Reville, whose keen eye doubtlessly contributed much to her husband’s work. But Gervasi overcompensates by giving her credit for nearly everything that’s good in Psycho, showing steely confidence while Hitch peeps through blinds and embarks on neurotic food binges. Worse yet, he begins chatting with an imagined Ed Gein, the Wisconsin serial killer who inspired the character of Norman Bates. Their conversations are the worst kind of expository gimmick — not to mention wholly unnecessary given the tendency of all the characters in the film to walk around psychoanalyzing themselves.
John J. McLaughlin’s screenplay relies on the audience’s hindsight, striving for laughs from boorish studio executives and puritanical censors being proved wrong by future events. Liberties with its title character aside, Hitchcock can’t avoid reminding viewers that they could be watching a better film, one great enough to forgive its director his inadequacies.