Starring Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren. Written by John J. McLaughlin. Directed by Sacha Gervasi. PG. 98 min. Opens Nov. 23.
If you notice the Earth trembling this week, it’ll probably be due to the number of people spinning in their graves after the release of Hitchcock. The biggest rumbles would probably come from the director himself, embodied here by a bored-looking Anthony Hopkins and depicted as a wobbly old duffer who found himself communing in his dreams with serial killer Ed Gein during the making of Psycho.
If the Gein stuff is at once ludicrous and lurid (no surprise from John J. McLaughlin, the screenwriter of Black Swan), the rest of Sacha Gervasi’s film is frothy and innocuous. Flattering its audience with softball in-jokes about Hollywood history, it glosses over nearly everything that was actually interesting about Psycho’s troubled production and lasting legacy. Instead, we’re subjected to a standard-issue story of old marrieds getting their groove back.
As Alma Reville, Helen Mirren gets to be fiercely devoted and tearfully indignant. But the script lets the character down by implying that her attempts at creative independence were little more than a jealous wife acting out against her husband. Meanwhile, Scarlett Johansson’s Janet Leigh is a voluptuous good sport sweetly humouring Hitch’s dirty-old-man act (which is made to seem far more palatable than in HBO’s recent, similarly themed behind-the-scenes drama, The Girl).
That Hitchcock compresses and distorts certain facts about its subject is unavoidable, but it’s painful to watch a movie that suggests its namesake actually wielded a blade while helming Psycho’s infamous shower scene. Hitchcock is the biopic equivalent of a knife in the back.