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MOVIE REVIEW: ‘Hitchcock’ has slew of factual inaccuracies, conjecture

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This publicity film image released by Fox Searchlight shows Anthony Hopkins as Alfred Hitchcock in "Hitchcock." The new film "Hitchcock," which is set during the making of the "Psycho," is only the latest expression of never-ending obsession of Hitchcock's most influential masterpiece. (AP Photo/Fox Searchlight, Suzanne Tenner, File)

Hitchcock (PG-13)

2 and 1/2 out of 4 stars

For the second time in three weeks a studio has released a movie with the last name of its main character doubling for the title. At first glance, unsuspecting audiences could get the impression both are full-tilt bio flicks when in reality each only covers only a tiny sliver of their leads' rich and storied lives.

In the great scheme of things, it doesn't matter what a movie's title is as long as it delivers the goods; something "Lincoln" did masterfully. In "Hitchcock," "Master of Suspense" director Alfred Hitchcock is not treated as a cinematic genius but rather a timid and insecure man whose relationships with women ran the psychological gamut. For anyone with even a moderate working knowledge of Hitchcock's life, "Hitchcock" doesn't tell us anything we don't already know about the man but still manages to do so (in parts) with style and panache.

As he has often done in the past, Sir Anthony Hopkins plays a non-fictional character with whom he shares little to no physical resemblance with but in a way only he and a scant few others have ever done, he melts into the role almost immediately. Within minutes, the audience is totally sold on his performance and never once doubts his commitment to the role.

The exact same thing can be said about Helen Mirren as Hitchcock's frequent professional collaborator and long-suffering wife Alma Reville. Herself the lead (and subsequent Oscar-winner) in a bio-film ("The Queen") with a somewhat misleading title, Mirren looks little like the woman she's playing but more than compensates with a meaty and steely performance than transcends the typical "woman-behind-the-man" supporting role. If there was ever a doubt that Alma wasn't the not-too-well-kept secret behind her husband's success, "Hitchcock" makes it eminently clear.

While not his best movie, "Psycho" was easily Hitchcock's highest-profile and most profitable effort. It ushered what we now know as the creepy horror thriller, but more importantly (at least as far as this film is concerned) came with a juicy backstory that included political studio infighting, a white-knuckle/teeth-gnashing creative process and grisly real-life inspiration.

Opening as if it were as episode of Hitchcock's short-lived TV series, the film shows Hitchcock witnessing the death of a man at the hands of Ed Gein (Michael Wincott). Gein was the Wisconsin-based serial killer that not only became the basis for the "Psycho" novel, but also future films such as "The Silence of the Lambs" and "American Psycho." The Gein character shows up in dream sequences, talking to Hitchcock whenever the director hits a creative snag or a stretch of self-doubt/loathing and it is effective until it's not. Ultimately, like flashbacks, these scenes indicate cracks in the screenplay more than innovative storytelling.

Another weak link involves a subplot involving Alma and Whitfield Cook (Danny Huston), a failed novelist and screen scribe but moderately successful TV writer whose nebulous sexual attitude not only confuses her but also drives the perpetually paranoid Hitchcock up a wall. This facet of the story again starts with promise but eventually fizzles out.

Given the infamous history of the filming of "Psycho," director Sacha Gervasi and his two screenwriters were faced with the unenviable task of deciding just how much of the real story to include and went with the lesser of many evils. Only one scene from the film (guess which one?) is recreated with the bulk of this chunk of the story concentrated on the casting of the leads.

While the lesser-known James D'Arcy appoints himself reasonably well as the uncertain and eager-to-please Anthony Perkins, Scarlett Johansson as Janet Leigh and Jessica Biel as Vera Miles never quite click. Each actress is too tabloid-familiar and lightweight for the parts and neither is able to go far beyond by-the-numbers renderings.

"Hitchcock" isn't a terrible movie by any stretch and even with a slew of factual inaccuracies and far too much conjecture is never less than entertainingly plausible. It's OK; it will do in a pinch, but for a slab of cinematic and biographical history such as this that requires at minimum two whole pies, "Hitchcock" only serves up a medium-sized slice. (Fox Searchlight)