Ardent fans of Anthony Hopkins may want to see what the actor does as Alfred Hitchcock, whom he embodies with the help of abundant prosthetics, but it’s hard to think of another reason to recommend “Hitchcock,” a patronizing biopic about the famed suspense master. Watering down Stephen Rebello’s sourcebook, “Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho,” the film is rather insultingly cobbled together, shoving well-known material into the hands of serious actors in the evident hope of currying Oscar favor.
The hook is that Alfred Hitchcock had a secret weapon — his wife, Alma Reville (Helen Mirren), who, apparently, was every inch the woman behind the man, revising, editing and even co-directing many of his films. Reville’s role is an interesting factoid to share with the public, but John McLaughlin’s laughable script makes it a gooey, banal core element — a strength-of-marriage dock to which the other failing elements can tie up. Even Mirren falls short of making an impression, playing a poorly drawn woman and getting an Oscar-clip scene that, like the rest of the film, feels routine to the point of lifelessness.
Hitchcock himself is presented in a very unbalanced fashion, which begs the audience to alternately perceive him as a grotesque monster and loving husband. Director Sacha Gervasi often opts to make the icon wholly repellent, from his demeanor and terrible diet to his wild way with actresses, which famously led to the common terror of many leading ladies (in the film, Scarlett Johansson is Janet Leigh and Jessica Biel is Vera Miles). The one provocative move sees Hitchcock dreaming of butcher knives and Ed Gein (Michael Wincott), and perhaps going so far as to fantasize murders of his own, but the thread is no sooner dropped in favor of more viewer back-patting. (Did you catch that blatant “Birds” reference? Good for you!)
“Hitchcock” is the kind of film that would have been better left unmade, as it serves its makers a helluva lot more than it serves its subject, and its only sharp edges are those of the cookie-cutter sort.
One reel out of four
Opens tomorrow at the Ritz Five
One of the year’s few masterpieces, Benh Zeitlin’s “Beasts of the Southern Wild” is at once magical and bracingly authentic, taking place in the rarely-seen swamps of the Southern Delta, and using the tale of a young girl to convey beautiful post-Katrina allegory. Gorgeous in all its un-gorgeousnessness, the film is a true original, playing with form and narrative and channeling world events, all while presenting a poignant journey about family and self-discovery. A must-see.
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