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J. Edgar – review

J. Edgar

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Leonardo DiCaprio plays J. Edgar Hoover, director of the FBI, in Clint Eastwood’s new film.  The film follows J. Edgar’s life and times in a non-linear fashion, cutting back and forth from his early days and rise in the FBI, to his last days in office and death.

The film plays out like your normal biopic for some time as we learn of Hoover’s driven life.  He was a loner without many friends except his mother, who he loved dearly and lived with till her final days.  He was a momma’s boy through and through.  The only people who he may have considered friends were his secretary Helen Gandy (Naomi Watts), and his second in command Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer, The Social Network), who was also his longtime companion.  He was a man who loved his country, and changed many federal laws all while having a huge impact on this country during his days with the bureau.  His G-men, and bringing so many gangsters to justice, are just a few of the interesting things that are touched upon in the movie.  He was also a closet homosexual, who liked to dress up in women’s clothing, something that for a man of his power and stature must have been excruciating to deal with, especially during his time.

Important moments in history, such as the Kennedy assassination, and Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech are thrust into the film as after-thoughts, amongst a very weak main plot of Hoover hiring various people to help him write his memoirs.  We are all given hints and glimpses of Hoover’s battles with Robert Kennedy, MLK Jr., and Eleanor Roosevelt to name a few during this time.  We are all told that his infamous personal files are growing steadily on these and other political figures, but we are never really given any answers in regards to these personal accusations, and ultimately are left in the dark watching the film with one word on our minds…huh?

Scenes near the end of the film revolve around Hoover and Tolson, and their personal relationship, as Hoover gets deeper and deeper into trouble with wire taps.  The scenes play out like a bad episode of the Odd Couple as Hammer and Dicaprio shake, stumble, and mumble their way through them in pretty poorly disguised old man fat suits.  It’s hard not to laugh.

DiCaprio is the one saving grace in the film.  He is one of maybe 5-6 actors, that I could think of off the top of my head, who have the ability to fall completely into a character and make you forget you’re actually watching them.  The only downside is that at times the makeup, used during his later years, makes him look puffy and fake, breaking that wall of believability.  This of course is through no fault of his own.

To call Clint Eastwood’s new film J. Edgar a jumbled incoherent mess would be to praise it.   The film is extremely hard to follow.  The loose backdrop of it follows the kidnapping of the Lindburgh baby, which the film continually goes back to, but so many other side-plots and historical anecdotes are thrust in between the gaps of that story that you forget you were even dealing with that story at all.  We end up getting lost as to where and when the film actually is in a historical timeline.  For a director so meticulous and near perfect as Eastwood this is not only a disappointment but very close to complete embarrassment.  I can’t fathom how in the world Eastwood shot some of the scenes without laughing at the ridiculousness of them himself.

J. Edgar Hoover was a powerful and misunderstood man, and we understand and see some of that here through DiCaprio’s strength as an actor, but we also lose a lot of it through Eastwood’s direction, and that is the most unfortunate part of all.

Grade: D+