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By Andrew Latimer • June 13th, 2013
Static Mass Rating: 2/5
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Release date: June 17th, 2013
Running time: 98 minutes

Director: Sacha Gervasi
Writers: John J. McLaughlin, Stephen Rebello
Composer: Danny Elfman

Cast: Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Scarlett Johansson


No matter how many years pass, film lists are compiled, documentaries are made, there will always be time to sit and talk shop about Alfred Hitchcock. From notions of dramatic tension to irony, voyeurism, envy, lust and terror, he taught us cinema was ultimately and rewardingly aesthetic – it triggers the senses and passions of the human psyche in a way other mediums can’t. It’s testament to this that Vertigo (1958) leapfrogged Citizen Kane (1941) on Sight & Sound’s Top 50 Greatest Films of all Time register, and that year on year, television tributes and reruns clog up the channels.

Most will have seen Hitchcock’s films back-to-front by watching his talkies before jumping back to school themselves on any silent-era fare. Therein lay the rumblings of his talent; in an age when many directors were making tough decisions about transitioning into the era of sound, Hitchcock saw it as completely natural and did so without blinking. He was a mastermind of the image: words came to aid the tableaux in a way which didn’t hinder the tension but rather added depth and extra dimension. The more subtle aspects of how he operated inside a larger American machine and the kind of psychosomatic hang-ups that made him obscure are largely trivialised by Sacha Gervasi’s biopic here, adapted from Stephen Rebello’s original novel.

In this regard, Hitchcock is just too Hollywood. Big names, fond memories, painting studios as villains and actors as jewels all coalesce to make this film a watery attempt at remembering a “behind-the-scenes” Hitch. Anthony Hopkins adds about 20 kilos of prosthetics to his face and rehearses rolling his “o” sounds to catch that unmistakable refined inflection while Helen Mirren plays it prim and proper as his wife/collaborator Alma Reville. Gervasi picks up at the premiere of North By Northwest (1959) when Hitch has a crisis after reports that he might be past his best. Ready to fire up the engines, he picks up Robert Bloch’s Psycho and sets about adapting it for the screen. As the novel’s title would suggest, there are many comparisons between what makes Hitch tick and that of his lead protagonist – most obviously mania and emotional instability.


For cinephiles, most of whom will be precious and knowledgeable about Hitch, this film just isn’t satisfying. It’s bloodless and trifling; Gervasi has reduced it to little more than a warm flashback of when Hitchcock was working on Psycho. Even Scarlett Johansson fails to sex it up with her flat performance as Janet Leigh. In a sense, Hitchcock also pays inadequate tribute to the great auteur; it’s neither on an equally intelligent plane nor does it address the psychosocial aspects of his life in enough detail.

As a result, it doesn’t pinpoint how they filtered in through the lens. For the casual viewer, there isn’t even a basic level of entertainment; Hopkins’ performance is dreary rather than obscurely withdrawn and quirky as he intends it – for such a fine actor he comes across as a shoddy copycat. Meanwhile, Mirren’s portrayal of Hitch’s wife leaves her feelings of sexual frustration unexcavated (though this is forgivable since her character is grossly underwritten by writer John J. McLaughlin).

The moments when Hitchcock wanders into more substantive territory are of such immense relief. Gervasi touches on the director’s longing for critical approval and his desire to avoid cinematic repetition (despite being a creature of habit and obsession in Hitchcockhis personal life). He was jealous, anxious and devious, exacerbating states which he exploded on screen to give life to the vicious and terrifying psychoses we witnessed over the decades.

Yet, as soon as Gervasi meets these points head-on, he runs away from them and relies far too heavily on dialogue to tell of a master who himself required few words. Gervasi occasionally picks up on this and will throw in a quick shot of Hopkins walking behind a lit screen to detect that infamous silhouette, but this kind of familiar image is cheap and predictable.

Hitchcock is everything the eponymous director would have hated: bland, uninventive, flavourless, humourless and superficial. To an extent, it suffers from such a categorical title in the same way Spielberg’s Lincoln (2012) did; the only real exploration here is how Hitch was a voyeur. No, really? He liked to observe things? It’s ironic that for a man whose films have granted us with such food for thought, from conversation over a pint or two to bound academic theses, there’s a distinct lack of discussion. It’s as if Gervasi decided to make Hitchcock on a whim without considering what was actually needed to make a successful biopic. It’s devoid of any grand literacy on the nature of filmmaking and is ignorant towards the complexities of what made Hitch a genius.


Andrew Latimer

Andrew Latimer

Andrew started out writing theatre reviews in Edinburgh while studying for a degree in Arts Journalism. His interest in film came after attending several festivals across the UK. In particular, he discovered a love of documentary cinema, specifically the work of Werner Herzog and Errol Morris.

Andrew loves films which investigate stories of undocumented struggle and solitude. Some favourite docs include Grizzly Man, King of Kong, 5 Broken Cameras, L'encerclement, Inside Job and Shoah.

Andrew runs a Scottish arts review website, TVBomb, and you can follow him on Twitter at @ajlatimer.

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