Regarding content, Hitchcock’s ability to jolt viewers to the core emerged, many argue, from tapping into his own neuroses. As we join this story, he chooses to make “Psycho” despite lack of Paramount studio’s full support, even after his triumphant “North by Northwest” for them. Paramount wants another hit just like that. Hitch wants to tackle the horror genre, picks a daring story with the heroine killed halfway through, and then soldiers on, determined to make this film, despite nightmares about failure, including several lamely imagined dialogues with Ed Gein, an actual killer.
Hitch wrestles with budget, acting choices, censors, and, central to this film, wife Alma. She emerges as the genius behind the genius, and Hitch’s jealousy over her imagined affair causes tension though Alma scoffs at it. Anthony Hopkins as Hitch and Helen Mirren as Alma have the acting chops to enliven their scenes with merely a glance, but their characters lack the complexity they deserve. As Janet Leigh, Scarlett Johansson is a game player, James D’Arcy seems to channel Anthony Perkins, and Toni Colette, Michael Stuhlbarg, Jessica Biel, and Danny Huston offer strong support.
But—“Hitchcock” settles for too bland a version of this complex, conflicted, neurotic director. He’s safer than any of Hitch’s unnerving scoundrels, a real disservice to him. Based on Stephen Rebello’s book on the making of “Psycho,” but prohibited from using any scenes from that film, Gervasi settles for Hitch’s naughty voyeurism, off-color remarks, and repressed restraint devoid of Hitch’s glorious indulgence of a cruel wit and calm victimization.
The script lets “Hitch” down, and while Hopkins catches Hitch’s restraint, it lacks the requisite danger that made Sir Alfred’s masterpieces so terrifying. It panders a bit, doesn’t go for the jugular as Hitch loved to do. How ironic, then, that “Hitchcock” the film plays it safe when his “Psycho” became famous precisely because it didn’t. At a Landmark Theatre.