J. Edgar, written by Dustin Lance Black (Milk) and directed by Clint Eastwood (Hereafter), is a biopic on the rise of J. Edgar Hoover who was the head of the FBI for almost 50 years. The film jumps around in time from when Hoover was a young motivated worker, as the federal agency was first being created, to an old transformed monster of a man, haunted by a deep secret. The lead performance by Leonardo DiCaprio is nothing short of astonishing, showing off his acting talents to the fullest. Leo never disappoints, but legendary filmmaker Clint Eastwood, whose track record has faltered in his later years, delivers sloppy direction and a pace that would put most moviegoers to sleep. The script that held so much potential, doesn’t convert well to the screen. It left me unmoved with no emotional investment in any character whatsoever and has become the first Oscar baity tragedy of the 2011 season.
For nearly 50 years, Hoover (DiCaprio) fought crime as one of the most powerful law enforcers in America. During Hoover’s extended stint as Director of the FBI, however, his penchant for bending the law in the name of seeking justice and using the secrets of high profile leaders to gain personal leverage won him just as many supporters as detractors. We see Hoover’s tactics in focus as he tries to solve the infamous Lindberg baby kidnapping. Little did many other than his loyal colleague Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer) and faithful secretary Helen Gandy (Naomi Watts) know, however, that Hoover himself was a man with many secrets to hide, which troubled him into his final years.
The first hour of J. Edgar is extremely uninteresting. The way they jump back and forth 50 years is hard to get a grasp on the tone of the film. The next hour is a little better as the story starts to focus more on the relationship of Hoover and Tolson, when this happens the film becomes more entertaining. The last 15 minutes however felt like another hour. The film can’t find a proper end point and it drags along until finally concluding on a weak note. Clint Eastwood is much to blame, with Invictus, Hereafter and now J. Edgar, his films are becoming less and less masterful when compared with his older work (Mystic River, Million Dollar Baby, Letters From Iwo Jima). He is trying to hard and working to fast to craft such big stories and intriguing characters. I’m also not sure why he chooses to film in such gray drab colors. This film had potential to be visually appealing and it is not. He also decides to score the film himself which has become sort of a trademark, while his scores are usually decent this one is boring, which I guess goes along with the story.
Leonardo DiCaprio is one of my favorite actors working today, and I find it hard to blame him for the story not working. He tackles his performance again with such an amazing skill, nailing a tough accent and speech impediment, while holding this dark secret of being a homosexual inside for the most part. The secret ends up tearing him up from the inside out. You can’t blame Leo for picking this role because he seems to need a challenge at this point of his career. He will find that perfect role someday that will finally land him an Oscar, I’m afraid this is not it, nor do I want it to be, because it’s probably my least favorite DiCaprio film ever made. The supporting role of Armie Hammer is another positive to this film. He had amazing chemistry with DiCaprio and owns some of the most emotional scenes of the film. My favorite scene was a confrontation between the two men in a hotel room, which was the only scene that did anything for me emotionally. Naomi Watts as the secretary and Judi Dench who played Hoover’s mother, each had little screen time and were nothing to write home about.
Not to be so negative but there were also some other things that bothered me about the film. The makeup to transform the actors and actresses was just too much to handle. Leo’s makeup wasn’t as bad but every time old Armie Hammer came on the screen all I could see was Johnny Knoxville as an old man in the Jackass films. It just looked comical and wasn’t convincing at all. I guess it was as good as it can get but it was too much for me to accept and took me out of the film a bit. The screenplay by Dustin Lance Black was also a let down, considering how good the script was for Milk. I’m starting to get the feel that he was a one hit wonder.
Overall, J. Edgar was an enormous disappointment from legendary director Clint Eastwood. It has fine acting from its stars but it is emotionally dull with many problems throughout which can only be put to blame on Mr. Black and Mr. Eastwood.
Maybe it’s time to retire Clint. You’ve been whacked!