Opening-and closing- with a scene which is a homage to the legendary director’s TV show ‘Alfred Hitchcock Presents’ it is clear from the outset that this film will be reverential and celebratory rather than a hatchet job, unlike the recent TV outing ‘the Girl’ which portrayed Hitchcock as a predatory sexual bully. Unfortunately the reverential tone steers clear of any controversy and as a result Sacha Gervasi’s film is a testament to the director’s fight against the Hollywood bigwigs for a film that he alone seems to believe in, the now  justly revered,  Psycho.

History has since proved that Hitchcock was right concerning his convictions as Psycho is still considered his masterpiece as well as a classic of its own particular genre and its own right. Unfortunately this film about its tumultuous making will not be remembered as a classic and despite having many outstanding actors –Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Scarlett Johanssen- on board only James D’Arcy as an eerily creepy Anthony Perkins truly rises to the occasion and turns in a great performance. Hopkins may have stepped into the fat suit to play the director but unfortunately he doesn’t attain any emotional depth and delivers every line as if he were introducing another episode of the aforementioned ‘Alfred Hitchcock Presents’.

The tale takes up after the resounding success of ‘North by Northwest’ which received plaudits from critics and audiences alike. Unwilling to replicate this success with a formulaic follow up Hitchcock stumbles on a novel. ‘Psycho’, based on mass murderer Ed Gein who formed the character basis for Norman Bates. Facing opposition from the studio who refuse to finance a film featuring gore, stabbings, transvestism and grave robbing Hitchcock decides to fund the film himself , re-mortgaging his luxury Hollywood mansion, much to the chagrin of his long suffering wife Alma. A talented film maker in her own right it is the dynamic between these two which forms the sub-plot of the movie showing the tensions in their marriage as she forms an emotional attachment to a fellow writer. However the whole situation is glossed over in true Hollywood style and the resolve is predictable and a little schmaltzy.

Meanwhile back on the set tensions are also mounting  with problems, not this time with his leading lady, but with a supporting cast member who has previously rejected his claustrophobic attentions; Vera Miles( Jessica Biel) who played Lila Crane in the movie. This situation is only exacerbated by pressure from distributors and censors who are looking for a way to prevent the film ever being shown. Hitchcock refuses to bow down to such pressures however and continues on his own path although according to this film Psycho only begins to take shape as the recognisable classic of today after Alma returns to the fold with her input and insight thus saving the day in true Hollywood style.

It is unfortunate that a film about the so called ‘Master of Suspense’ is so lacking in tension or verve and just meanders along at its own inconspicuous pace. Basically a celebration of Hitchcock it glosses over what so many are now aware of concerning his predatory and bullying tactics to get exactly what he wanted. Glimpses of self reference are all over the film- the voyeurism of ‘Rear Window’ and the overloading on food of ‘Frenzy’ are just two cases in point- but their positioning is detail rather than influence. It is a competent film which carries itself along graciously to a fitting conclusion. If however you want to capture something of the talent and intuition of Alfred Hitchcock and to see what the fuss is really all about then I suggest you watch Vertigo, North By Northwest or Psycho itself and see what genius really can produce.


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