Review: “J. Edgar”

November 22, 2011 at 10:06 pm Leave a comment

I haven’t always been a Clint Eastwood fan. I’d seen a few of his Westerns, some of his cop movies, and even part of the one where he hangs out with a orangutan. It wasn’t until I saw him in Gran Torino when I really started to respect him as a filmmaker. Sure, everybody praises Unforgiven (great film, btw), but I connected with Gran Torino more and really respected the choices he made from behind the camera (except for hiring non-professional actors to play the supporting roles). So it goes without saying that I went into J. Edgar with some high hopes.

The biopic about the founder and director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation is at times slow-moving, and even a bit confusing about its message, but it kept me engaged. Leonardo DiCaprio single-handedly keeps this movie afloat. He’s the kind of actor that keeps getting better with each movie. DiCaprio brings to the screen a flawed, but driven individual. His Hoover is intelligent and determined, but becomes increasingly paranoid and his hiding of his homosexuality forces Hoover to  constantly betray himself.

The story of the film spans several decades through which we see the rise of the FBI and criminal science. J. Edgar Hoover has a hand in all of it, turning the small subsidiary of the Justice Department to an effective national police force. Unfortunately, by the end of the movie, it left me feeling a bit empty. I couldn’t see where Clint Eastwood was going with this movie. I learned a lot about Hoover and a little bit about the post-World War II America that the movie is set in, but that was kind of about it. Maybe I was thinking about it too much, and maybe there isn’t some kind of morality tale buried underneath all the layers of make-up. Maybe Eastwood just wanted to make an effective biopic about J. Edgar Hoover.

Speaking of make-up, some of the aging effects on the actors looked phenomenal. Naomi Watts looked great as Hoover’s secretary, Helen Gandy, and at times so did DiCaprio. Armie Hammer, who plays Hoover’s right-hand-man (and possible lover) Clyde Tolson, however, didn’t look so convincing as an old man. His face looked stiff and, well, fake.

History buffs will no doubt find this movie interesting and could spend days discussing Hoover, his policies, and what the movie got right or wrong. I’m no expert on Hoover, so I can’t attest to this movie’s historical accuracy, but I’m assuming that screenwriter Dustin Lance Black did his research and the story only takes a few liberties for dramatic purposes. With that said, I can say that I found this movie entertaining overall. No doubt we’ll here more about this movie as awards season comes around — this movie has Oscar bait written all over it.

7/10

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