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Hopkins and Mirren as Mr. and Mrs. Hitchcock is an alluring casting coup, but this biopic ends up being for the birds....
Fox / 98 Minutes / 2012 / Rated PG-13 / Street Date: March 12, 2013
Sacha Gervasi’s Hitchcock and Gus Van Sant’s Psycho will make for an erudite double feature for film scholars working on their dissertations on mid-20th-century American film. The reason the two are such implicitly perfect bedfellows is that they both take aim at illuminating various facets of the genius of Alfred Hitchcock, but they both fail in fascinatingly all-encompassing ways. The granddaddy of American pictures may have his likeness and style imitated in these films, but they’re never more than AMC Backstory-lite.
What Van Sant proved with his Psycho is that even a strict shot-by-shot reconstruction (and, in parts, reimagining) of Hitch’s achievements come up not only short but impossibly so. That Van Sant’s remake is so narratively dull is a testament to the lightning-in-a-bottle talent Hitch was able to deliver to his projects: he can be aped almost note-by-note, but Psycho’s merits remain stoically and irrefutably unique.
Gervasi’s Hitchcock attempts to throw some Hollywood-catnip biopic spin on the legend of Hitch, casting Anthony Hopkins as the man and Helen Mirren as his wife (with Scarlett Johansson thrown in as Janet Leigh for good measure), but as alluring as it is to watch Hopkins do his best jowled impression of the legend, a true-to-life biography of Hitch was bound to come up empty for the singular reason Hitchcock remains such a pivotal figure in the medium.
As snooty-aesthete as it might sound, Hitchcock was able to drum up all the ennui and conflicts within himself – as both artist and human – and turn the results into impressionistic works of autobiography: films like Vertigo and Rear Window and Psycho are fictional, of course, but they’re also somehow the story of Alfred Hitchcock’s life. And in the act of infusing needless melodrama into the ins and outs of the guy’s private life in an endeavor like Hitchcock, that patina is muddled a bit – the events on stage here are roundly unnecessary in every way.
Would it be nice to have a chance to go back in time and crawl inside Hitch’s head to see what inspired such indelible pieces of art? Sure. But until that’s possible, all we have are the movies, and that’s really all that matters. Hopkins, Mirren, and Johanssen certainly get into the spirit of things in this biopic, but as laudable their intents may have been, the results are humdrum at best.
I bet Hitch as a viewer would have little to no interest in it.