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Film review: Biopic has more than one hitch

November 30, 2012|By Andy Klein
  • Helen Mirren and Anthony Hopkins on the set of 'Hitchcock.'
Helen Mirren and Anthony Hopkins on the set of 'Hitchcock.' (Courtesy of Fox…)

Alfred Hitchcock's reputation as a filmmaker was already on the rise when he died 32 years ago. Since then it has consistently (and rightly) grown ever greater. At the same time, his reputation as a person has taken a lot of blows ... whether rightly or not is a determination way above my pay grade. It's significant that Donald Spoto's biography — the first Hitchcock bio to be published after his death — was subtitled “The Dark Side of Genius.”

Sacha Gervasi's new “Hitchcock” is technically based on Stephen Rebello's “Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho,” but it draws on decades of lore about the great director's obsessions — the most disturbing being his attempts to win the love of the young blond actresses he repeatedly cast.

Gervasi's movie opens with Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins, in a fat suit and a bald wig) basking in the critical and commercial success of “North by Northwest,” his 46th feature in 35 years. In the public's mind, it's the ultimate “Hitchcock movie” — although such a concept is an insult to the breadth of his work. It also guarantees that any future films will be seen as disappointing. He decides to make a 180-degree pivot from the glossy, witty style of “North by Northwest” by making a relatively low-budget horror film from Robert Bloch's novel “Psycho.” The rest, as they say, is film history.

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While this is going on, age and romantic frustration seem to drive Hitchcock's imagination into the realm of lunacy. Ed Gein (Michael Wincott), the murderer who inspired “Psycho,” is securely confined in a mental hospital, yet he apparently has time to materialize at odd moments and chew the fat (as it were) with Hitch, mostly about girl problems.

The movie is rarely wrong on facts, but manages to be wrong (or, at least, egregiously speculative) on everything else. Let's start with the casting: Daniel Day-Lewis might have had a tall order embodying Lincoln, but he didn't have to worry about the voice. Hopkins, on the other hand, has to look and sound like Hitchcock, who — thanks to his TV series — imprinted his distinct voice on the public, as well as his image. Hopkins gives us a not-very-convincing impression; on the up side, his Hitchcock never lapses into a slight Welsh accent like his Nixon.

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