Psycho Killer, Qu’est Que C’est – ★★
Despite the amount of media coverage devoted to names like Spielberg, Scorsese, Lucas and Abrams it’s worth remembering that one director probably still holds more international name recognition – Sir Alfred Joseph Hitchcock.
In Hitchcock, Sacha Gervasi (of Anvil fame) is tasked with bringing the story of the making of Psycho, Hitch’s most notorious film (aside from 1946’s Notorious), to the big screen. So basically a film about a stone-cold classic’s making-off – surely it’s going to be at least passable, right? Well…
At the heart of the film is Sir Anthony Hopkins as Hitch and Helen Mirren as his wife Alma. They’re comfortably living in their American mansion but the great man is bored of the thrillers that have made him famous and wants to tackle something completely different. He discovers Robert Bloch’s suspense novel “Psycho”, has his assistant buy every copy in town and tells Paramount Pictures that this will be his next film. They’re sceptical of how well audiences will take to the film so refuse to finance it, forcing him to fund it himself. This leaves Hitch and Alma questioning whether they’ll be able to hold on to the swimming pool if the movie flops. Poor little mites.
Because we ultimately know that the film is a hit and that the Hitchcock name and reputation is safe, to say the film could do with an injection of suspense would be a very kind understatement. Unfortunately the subplot involving Alma and her writing partner Whitfield Cook (Danny Huston) is paper-thin and whatever drama that is being built up by Psycho’s troubled production is lost whenever we’re pulled away to this story. The fact that screen-writer John J. McLaughlin’s two main film credits are the upcoming Jason Statham vehicle Parker and the superb Black Swan only adds to Hitchcock’s weirdness.
Scarlett Johansson plays Janet Leigh and does her best with the role but is left with next to nothing to do except fawn over Hitch. It’s unclear throughout the film whether we’re all meant to be experts in the infamous dynamics between the great man and his lead actresses, or whether we should watch 1960’s Psycho before or after seeing Hitchcock. Either way the characters of Vera Miles (a wasted Jessica Biel), Anthony Perkins (James D’Arcy) and Leigh are all wasted one-dimensional caricatures.
The film isn’t a complete waste of time as Hopkins is very good at the mannerisms and voice and it’s probably his best work since 2005’s The World’s Fastest Indian – however that isn’t much of an achievement when you consider the crap that he has produced in the last few years, favouring tripe like The Wolfman, The Rite and Beowulf. Mirren is on auto-pilot but remains eminently watchable.
The frustrating thing is that all the awesome stuff about Hitch’s rules for theatres showing Psycho (watch the video at the bottom of this review), the editing of the infamous shower sequence, the big shock at the end of the film (Mommy’s dead!!!) all feel brushed over in favour of other lesser strands of the story with Alma, Whitfield and movie censors. The fact that so many of these little subplots and characterisations are fabricated makes the whole thing even more heinous.
Simply put, Hitchcock feels cheap, pointless and like a missed opportunity. Seek out the HBO/BBC special The Girl from last year for a better take on Hitch with Toby Jones as the great man and Sienna Miller as his blonde.
USA / Directed By: Sacha Gervasi / Written By: John J. McLaughlin / Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Scarlett Johansson, Danny Huston, Michael Stuhlbarg, Jessica Biel / 98min / Drama / Release: 8 February 2013 (Ireland, UK), 14 December 2012 (USA, Canada)