HE was a colossus of the movie industry and a heavyweight director in more ways than one, so it comes as a bit of a disappointment that Hitchcock, a new biographical drama about the Master of Suspense, oozes style but is merely lightweight when it comes to the substance department.
Together with Orson Welles, Alfred Hitchcock owned the most famous - and easily recognisable - silhouette in the business. Were he still alive today (he died in 1980 at 80 years old), it would not be lost on him that a movie depicting a moment when he was at or near the peak of his powers is also notable for its lack of heft.
Hitchcock (the movie) gets it right in some ways - the primary actors are terrific and the period detail is impeccable - but unlike the films made by the man it portrays, there isn't much innovative moviemaking on display here. Instead, the film, directed by Sacha Gervasi and written by John J McLaughlin, takes a by-the-numbers approach - with an unnecessary distraction or two thrown in for good measure.
The year is 1959 and Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins) is basking in the accolades for his latest release, North by Northwest, but needs a completely different, nastier-in-tone follow-up project to work on. He focuses on Psycho, a book about a real-life serial murderer in Wisconsin with mommy issues.
The book contains graphic details of brutal violence - something that A-list directors have scrupulously avoided in the past, thanks in part to the hardships of dealing with the censorship board. However, it's just the sort of subject matter that appeals to Hitch's ("Call me Hitch, hold the cock," he says, straight-faced) dark, combative side. "What if someone really good made a horror picture?" he asks.
Alma (Helen Mirren), his wife and frequent collaborator on his films, contributes a crucial idea by suggesting that the leading lady be killed within the first 30 minutes. The terrifying shower scene in Psycho, made more memorable by the screeching soundtrack accompanying it, is on a par with the scene of the deadly underwater marauder in Jaws.
Despite his status, Hitch has his doubters - and moments of crushing insecurity - while getting the movie made. Issues regarding financing, distribution and casting are included in the narrative, and much of the fun in Hitchcock comes from watching Vivien Leigh (Scarlett Johansson, sparkling) and Vera Miles (Jessica Biel, as sparring partner) brought interestingly to life.
Meanwhile, a subplot involving Alma's flirtation with Whitfield Cook (Danny Huston), a writer with questionable talents and motives, plus several jarring fantasy sequences between Hitch and Ed Gein (Michael Wincott) - the actual killer that Psycho was based on - amount to the weakest aspects of the movie.
Hopkins is in fine, corpulent form, expertly conveying Hitchcock's droll wit, slightly disturbing eccentricities (some bordering on illegal) and the traits that made him a great director. Appropriately enough, it's Alma who gets the final word. Dismissing a studio executive's attempts to meddle with the creative process she sets him straight. "It's only a bloody movie," she says.