J. Edgar Hoover is a misinterpreted American hero. He was a complex individual who achieved a great deal. Unfortunately, underneath his successes, was a man filled with rage, jealousy, ambiguity, and resentment. For decades Hoover willingly obstructed people’s basic liberties, all for the sake of personal power. In the end, he was left very little.
Leonardo DiCaprio stars as the titular character in director Clint Eastwood’s tragic retelling of Hoover’s life, spanning from his early 20s to his deathbed, is unquestionably one of the director’s worst cinematic endeavors.
J. Edgar is a woefully disappointing picture, plagued with didactic and convoluted storytelling, embarrassingly bad makeup work, and a stale script lacking many of the rich themes Eastwood has been lauded for in the past.
The screenplay, written by Dustin Lance Black (Milk), tracks nearly 50 years of Hoover’s life and is interwoven with three different timelines. First as a child, secondly as an up and coming officer (who ultimately takes over the FBI), and lastly as an old man in his 70s, recounting his life through a memoir.
We learn Hoover was a very reclusive man. Throughout his lifetime we see only a few people who could be considered close to him. His mother, Annie (Judi Dench), his secretary Helen Gandy (Naomi Watts), and his best friend Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer) – all of which have different, unique relationships with Hoover.
The latter of those three people, Clyde, is perhaps more than just a friend. Eastwood and Black firmly depict Hoover as homosexual, a long-debated rumor. The relationship between Hoover and Clyde is an interesting one, well, at least at first glance. Eastwood doesn’t give the insight necessary to make us care for them. This is especially evident in the film’s breaking point, where Clyde gets upset when Hoover mentions a possible Mrs. The argument turns into a physical match, and eventually, a scene of confused romance.
Unfortunately, that scene speaks as a living testament to the pictures downfall: even in its most heated exchange, J. Edgar fails, time after time, to rouse genuine emotions. Eastwood’s longwinded tale does delves into exciting events in American History. Including the capturing of John Dillinger and the deconstruction of the Bolshevik-Communist party.
On the flipside, traumatic events such as the assassination of John F. Kennedy and the theft (and murder) of Charles Lindbergh’s young child also occur here. It’s quite amazing how much happened in Hoover’s 79-year lifespan and how often he was a part of it all.
However, the film does the man very little justice. The makeup is pitiful and thoroughly distracting. DiCaprio and Hammer just look downright ridiculous in the latter scenes – and this effectively make it impossible to take anything that transpires in those moments seriously.
While I admire Mr. Eastwood’s dedication to exploring new topics film after film, his conventional filmmaking that has garnered him a plethora of respect in the past is now wearing thin. If for not the outstanding performances from everyone in the cast, J. Edgar would be thoroughly deplorable.
It’s a shame, really, that a man as fascinating as J. Edgar Hoover is reduced to a prolonged, cinematic snooze. Clint Eastwood merely plays hopscotch with his life, aimlessly bouncing around from topic to topic, and along the way forgetting the purpose of the film.
2 stars out of 4
You can follow me on twitter @DukeSensation.