For a film titled HITCHCOCK, the story isn’t so much about the life of the famed director as it is a behind the scenes look at the making of PSYCHO. The finished product might have even benefitted had it kept the original title of the book on which it is based, ALFRED HITCHCOCK AND THE MAKING OF PSYCHO, which is a more precise summary of the plot than the films misleading title suggests.

Issues with naming of the film notwithstanding, HITCHCOCK makes for light, breezy viewing that rests on the shoulders of its two formidable leads—Anthony Hopkins in the titular role and Helen Mirren as Alma Reville, his often disregarded wife and pillar of strength. The assemblage of renowned, highly respectable thespians in makeup and facial prosthetics to make them appear identical to real life figures is a familiar technique and probably a tad exploitative, following on the heels of mediocre films from last year (both THE IRON LADY and J. EDGAR) that had great central performances but little else. With a play-it-safe approach and lack of genuine insight, HITCHCOCK at times feels like a film made for TV (like the ones on HBO perhaps) albeit it offers some intrigue and, if nothing else, a collection of trivia regarding the filming of PSYCHO in 1960, presented as dramatic facts.

As a slice of Hollywood history, the period details are intact and the behind the scenes look is conventional yet interesting. For anyone familiar with the work of the esteemed director, a lot of expected ground is covered, from Hitchcock’s penchant for casting blonde’s (and his infatuation with them) to his onset antics and run ins with producers. Where the film feels unique is his relationship with his wife Alma, and Mirren makes the role meaty by being both a formidable companion and at times of need, a helping hand with an eye for giving advice than is indispensible. The scenes of Hopkins and Mirren, fighting to make their film, under threat of losing their house, battling each other’s perceived infidelity, are really the highlights here.

Director Sacha Gervasi in his feature film debut (he previously directed the acclaimed rockumentary ANVIL!) chooses to play it safe by never venturing into exploring more thorny issues and ends up presenting the drama in overly simplistic terms that call for character transformations or relationship U-turns by the end of the film, none of which ever feel real. Even though parts of the film are fascinating, especially after PSYCHO has been shot but requires the magic of editing, the fine tuning of a score and the attention of the media to garner interest, a lot of it doesn’t quite work, especially the fictionalized moments of Hitchcock imagining a serial killer (who was the inspiration for Norman Bates) conversing with him. None of which will matter come awards season when praise for the performances (rightfully so) will drown out all the noise made by other criticism for the film.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

About Faizan Rashid

A veteran Dubai based film critic, Faizan has been reviewing movies for nearly a decade. His work has been published in local newspapers such as 7days and on prestigious online websites such as MSN Arabia and wearethemovies.com