No suspense -- or mastery -- in this 'Hitchcock' biopic

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Photo - This film image released by Fox Searchlight shows Helen Mirren as Alma Reville, left, and Anthony Hopkins as Alfred Hitchcock in "Hitchcock." (AP Photo/Fox Searchlight, Suzanne Tenner)
This film image released by Fox Searchlight shows Helen Mirren as Alma Reville, left, and Anthony Hopkins as Alfred Hitchcock in "Hitchcock." (AP Photo/Fox Searchlight, Suzanne Tenner)
Entertainment,Movies,Kelly Jane Torrance

Few filmmakers are as interesting as their movies. Alfred Hitchcock is an exception.

But you wouldn't know it from the new film, whose title is simply "Hitchcock." This Hitchcock is a sad little man with little confidence. Anthony Hopkins portrays him nearly pitch-perfectly, but as Hitchcock himself knew, an actor can never save a film. "Hitchcock" might amuse those who know little about the director. But it does nothing to increase our understanding of a fascinating, complicated artist.

The film opens in 1959, when "North by Northwest" is released to great success. Yet, Hitch faces a nasty question from a member of the press: "You're the most famous director in the history of the medium. But you're 60 years old. Shouldn't you just quit while you're ahead?" It's a ridiculous question, of course. What journalist would speak in such a way to a man who's just opened a critical and commercial success?

On screen
'Hitchcock'
1.5 out of 4 stars
Stars: Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Scarlett Johansson
Director: Sacha Gervasi
Rated: PG-13 for some violent images, sexual content and thematic material
Running time: 98 minutes

But we're meant to believe that Hitch is washed up and about to ruin his career by making the ill-advised "Psycho." It's true that the Master of Suspense had to finance one of his most suspenseful films on his own. The material in Robert Bloch's novel was risque and not the sort of thing you faced in cinemas. But it was exactly what Hitchcock was looking for.

And executives wanted to cash in on the success of "Northwest" by having him make a similar romantic drama. "Vertigo" is repeatedly mentioned as a monumental failure, though it did actually break even, and some at the time recognized it as a masterpiece.

"Psycho" might now been Hitch's best-known film. It broke all the rules of the time, mostly notably by killing off its leading lady, Janet Leigh (here performed with grace by Scarlett Johansson), early in the film. But director Sacha Gervasi offers us no insights into Hitch's genius. We see him peeking out of the blinds at passing women more often than we see him taking the sort of creative risks that made him one of the best filmmakers ever to live.

Hitch never won an Oscar, and here, it bothers him to no end. But a man wouldn't put up $800,000 of his own (1959) money if he didn't trust his own talent. He did have one advisor whose opinions he took seriously: his wife, Alma (Helen Mirren). The film spends a great deal of time showing us how estranged they're becoming, as Hitch focuses on his film and Alma finds a new (male) writing partner. In reality, Alma worked tirelessly on every Hitchcock film, and Alfred said he couldn't have made them without her.

It's true that Alfred Hitchcock made some of his leading ladies uncomfortable with his micromanaging intentions. But many of them worked with him repeatedly and were always happy to do so. His obsessive nature is one of the things that makes Hitchcock such a mysterious figure. But we don't learn anything about what made him tick here.

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Kelly Jane Torrance

Washington Examiner Movie Critic
The Washington Examiner