December 7, 2012 | 1:30pm
Based on the book Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho, Hitchcock is being marketed as a film within a film -- aka the making of Psycho, but it fails to deliver. We get instead a contrived, fraudulent jumble heavy on the subplots and even heavier on the melodrama.
In fact, almost everything about this film is heavy. Over-the-top acting and superfluous subplots unnecessarily weigh the film down. Jokes are delivered so ham-handedly, you can see them coming faster than strangers on a train.
Two things keep this film from being a total washout: The behind-the-scenes look at old Hollywood, and the fact that the acting ranges from decent to superb. The surprise here is that the most impressive performances come not from Mirren and Hopkins, but from the supporting cast. Scarlett Johansson and Jessica Biel turn in decent performances as Janet Leigh and Vera Miles, respectively, but the real star here is James D'Arcy, whose Anthony Perkins is so dead on that when he first comes on screen, I thought it was archival footage of Perkins' actual audition.
Unfortunately, Hopkins, usually a sure bet, sadly missed a wonderful opportunity here. This could have been an Oscar-worthy performance had he nailed it, like Meryl Streep did as Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady last year, but Hopkins' portrayal of ol' Hitch was simply adequate -- not so bad that you'd run crying from the theater, but not so good that, well, you'd run crying from the theater.
Mirren plays Alma Reville, Hitch's collaborator and (apparently) long-suffering wife. Mirren is always fun to watch on screen, and that is the case here when she actually has dialogue, but it seems as if the heavy hand applied throughout the film slapped Mirren in the back of the head and knocked her eyes loose. There are a few moments in which she lets sighs and eye rolls replace subtext -- a ploy used extensively throughout the film by Mirren and Hopkins. Even Toni Collete, who I previously thought could do no wrong, is guilty of this. Blank stares and heaving sighs should not be used to relay sentiment. Ever.
The heaviness is evident through the lens as well. There are moments when it seems that Gervasi is trying to emulate the style of the Master of Suspense himself, but it was a halfhearted attempt or he failed miserably. Sloppy and needless transitions, unnecessary footage (close up of a timer, extended close up of Alma swimming), and other such devices only make the failure of Hitchcock the film that much more evident.
As grating as this heaviness is, it is the ubiquitous specter of serial killer Ed Gein which almost kills the film. Hitch imagines having conversations with Gein throughout the entire picture -- a contrivance that only cheapens the film. Not to mention that Michael Wincott is miscast as Gein, sounding more like a homeless New Yorker with a tracheotomy than a Wisconsin grave robber.
Making a film about a cultural, historical, and creative icon is a monumental task, and not to be taken lightly. Gervasi has reserved his spot in hell -- right next to Gus van Sant.