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'Hitchcock' entertains, but can't live up to the master

10:22 AM, Feb. 1, 2013
Anthony Hopkins, left, as Alfred Hitchcock and Scarlett Johansson as Janet Leigh in 'Hitchcock.'
Anthony Hopkins, left, as Alfred Hitchcock and Scarlett Johansson as Janet Leigh in 'Hitchcock.' / Special to the News Journal

‘Hitchcock’

Rated: PG-13 for some violent images, sexual content and thematic material.
Star rating:★★½

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“Hitchcock,” Sacha Gervasi’s film about the imagined workings in Alfred Hitchcock’s life and mind that went into making the famous director’s “Psycho,” is a lot of fun.

Fun? Shouldn’t it be gripping, insightful, perhaps disturbing? Particularly when Anthony Hopkins is playing the title role and Helen Mirren the role of Hitchcock’s wife, Alma?

Probably. Instead, “Hitchcock” is, well, fun. More fun than good, really. It feels weird to call it a disappointment, because it is entertaining. But you can’t help feeling a little shortchanged on the deep-thinking front.

We first catch up with Hitchcock in 1959, after the success of “North by Northwest,” which has left everyone in the Hitchcock camp elated. Except Hitchcock, 60, who finds himself paralyzed with fear and indecision as he tries to pick his next project.

He finds it in “Psycho,” Robert Bloch’s novel that involves an insane killer who dresses as his mother. Everyone thinks Hitch is nuts, that the material is far too distasteful, but he is determined to forge ahead.

How determined becomes an issue with Alma. She is his supporter and collaborator, but when no studio will pay for the production, Hitchcock wants to mortgage the house to pay for it. Anthony Perkins (James D’Arcy) is cast as Norman Bates, the killer, and Janet Leigh (Scarlett Johansson) as his showering victim.

As Hitchcock fights doubts and detractors, production is a struggle, dealings with Production Code censor Geoffrey Shurlock (Kurtwood Smith) a nightmare.

In the film’s least-successful gambit, Hitchcock is frequently visited by the spirit, presumably, of Ed Gein (Michael Wincott), the killer who may have served as inspiration for Bloch’s novel. This leads Hitchcock to become jealous at Alma’s helping out screenwriter Whitfield Cook (Danny Huston) on a script, a project that allows her the freedom the increasingly suffocating Hitchcock will not.

Hopkins plays Hitchcock as controlling but in somewhat lighthearted fashion, so the inclusion of the scenes with Gein don’t really fit. Gervasi has a hard time setting a consistent tone.

Aside from manically choreographing the shower scene, we don’t get a lot of looks at the actual production, mostly just Hitchcock fretting about it. It’s as if we are waiting for something to happen, some real look inside, that never arrives.

That said, Hopkins has enormous fun with Hitchcock, drawing out words in the director’s famous delivery. But he, too, suffers from the lack of a consistent tone. Is Hitchcock a crazy genius who goes a little looney while making a film, or just crazy? You’ll have to look elsewhere for answers. Mirren fares better, not surprisingly; her Alma is the stable person in a relationship that needed one.

It’s all a good time, but ultimately a lark, when fans of Hitchcock’s work could have used a little something more.

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