Death by a thousand cuts – Hitchcock review


By Richard Haridy
May 15, 2013

There are a multitude of sordidly fascinating directions a biopic on Alfred Hitchcock could take. So, when Sacha Gervasi‘s flat and frothy Hitchcock concludes, it’s inevitably frustrating to find this film takes such a conventional path.

Hitchcock opens right when the great man was at the top of his game, having just released the gloriously entertaining North By Northwest. Always the provocateur, Hitch (Anthony Hopkins) surprises all by choosing to adapt a pulpy horror novel called Psycho next. Struggling with a non-committal studio, he decides to make the picture independently, a ground breaking decision at the time. His wife Alma (Helen Mirren) begrudgingly supports him on this journey against the good judgement of everyone.


Loosely based on a non-fiction book by Stephen Rebello, the movie is at its weakest when it tries to speculate a drama in the relationship between Hitch and his wife Alma. It’s clear Gervasi is admirably trying to highlight the woman behind the man, and Alma was a significantly important artistic collaborator; at times, the pendulum swings too far, reductively turning Hitch into a passively neurotic character whose best creative decisions weren’t even his. Hopkins impressively transforms himself physically, but plays Alfred as a goofy, obsessive mess. As a lifelong fan of Hitchcock, I never got the sense here of him being a cinematic visionary. Mirren is also strong as Alma, despite a performance that reportedly was quite unlike the quiet, sheepish real Alma.

Hitchcock is at its strongest when it concentrates on the details of the making of Psycho; from the fact that Hitch had trouble with the censors for showing a toilet on-screen, to the filming of the infamous shower scene – with Scarlett Johansson as victim Janet Leigh – which is depicted all too briefly. The flick is frequently fun even though it all feels like fan fiction that merely ticks the boxes of scenes you would expect covered. For those unfamiliar with the great man, it’s generally historically accurate and pleasantly enjoyable. Fans should be wary, however, for it’s also maddeningly superficial and homogenised.


Hitchcock is now available on DVD and Blu-ray.

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