J. Edgar (2011)
Director: Clint Eastwood
Writer: Dustin Lance Black
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Armie Hammer, Naomi Watts, Josh Lucas, Judi Dench
Country: United States
MPAA Rating: R
Time: 137 minutes
Genre: Biography, Drama
USA Release: 11/11/2011
On DVD (USA): 2/21/2012
Awards: 1 Golden Globe Nomination
When the trailer hit back a few months ago, “J. Edgar” became major Oscar bait for not only the directing but also the acting and writing. But now that the movie has hit theaters critics have become mixed as the expectations of the story about the famous first director of the FBI J. Edgar Hoover have been let down by what some say poor narration while some have praised it for it’s warm and moving story. Of course I was curious to learn more about J. Edgar and after watching it this past weekend here is what I thought.
“J. Edgar” of course as you can already guess tells the story of J. Edgar Hoover (Leonardo DiCaprio) who at age 40 became the first director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. We witness multiple sides to his life from the struggles he had getting the use of forensics and the FBI to be taken seriously to his home life and relationship with his domineering mother Anne Marie (Judi Dench). Also talked about is the rumored relationship between Hoover and his second in command at the FBI Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer). The story is told in the later years of Hoovers life as he dictates it to young agents for a future book. As we jump back and forth between the past and present we see how Hoover himself has changed and how he has changed the system of it all.
OK going into this I wasn’t quite sure what I was going to think seeing as the critics as a whole were on the fence about it. While I did walk out a bit disappointed there were still a lot of great things that kept this from being a bad movie in my eyes, however it wasn’t as brilliant as I was hoping it would be. To further explain myself, I can confidently say that because this is directed by Clint Eastwood who has established himself as a superb director and actor everyone was expecting his usually excellent work. Unfortunately this doesn’t quite live up to it, as there were many things that were surprisingly bad. My biggest complaint mostly because it was extremely difficult not to laugh at times was the atrocious make-up that made “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” look like it was made 20 years from now instead of 3 years ago. All of the main characters looked well beyond the age that they were suppose to be portraying. Hoover looked more like he was over 100 and modeled after the beefy guy Lothar from “The Rocketeer”; Clyde looked like a 200 year old burn victim. And Helen who probably looked the best out of the three still didn’t fit, I don’t know about you but I have never seen a person the age they were playing or older look that way. It was just plain bad. Another thing many talk about is the lighting which I did find to be unusually dark especially in the present of the 1960’s & 1970’s. Although it can be misconstrued as bad there could have been a reason for it like to represent the darkness of the time or the feelings toward that time. Or maybe it was just to hide the awful makeup effects who knows. But even with that the story kept everything going and I learned a bit more about events I knew little to nothing about, so if I were to give a rating based on the historical storytelling alone (i.e. the events that took place during that time not the historical significance of it all) I’d give it a 100% as it was very informative. However even that has it’s flaws as I was pointed out by a friend who is a history buff, they told me that for whatever reason although it has the build up it never covered one of the biggest things dealing with Hoover and that was the Red Scare as well as many other historical marking of the 40’s and early 50’s, they just skipped over and around it. And while the story line is done very well what must be left up to both the editor as well as the writer is how it jumped around. Yes it did have some really great way to transition back and forth but during some times if there wasn’t a historical marker to tell me I had no idea what year we were in, I actually thought that we were still in the mid to late 60’s when we get to the end, only to find out later that it was actually the early 70’s. I realize right now it seems like I’m going to give this movie a very bad score especially since there are still a couple of bad things to be said but rest assured there are good things to be said as well, just after this last set of complaints.
These last two things are actually pretty small complaints, the first deals with the fact that they should have never used actual footage of Nixon as the man playing him looks nothing like Nixon in the footage or how he should have looked at the time, the man playing him was far too young. My last complaint deals with things being left too open or is veiled to much, the scene in question is when Hoover is listening to a tape just as he gets the call about JFK death, while we see what has happening with the cool use of shadows on the wall we are never quite sure who it is suppose to be, I assumed it was JFK or Booby and Marilyn Monroe but the voice of the man doesn’t sound like either one, which just made the scene a little confusing. OK I have finished my rant on the bad things about this movies, so it time to move onto the good things. While this may be a story about Hoover’s career in the FBI it is also and surprisingly a love story, although that story is a rumor that swings both ways it fits very well within the story of Hoovers life. This love story between Hoover and Tolson is a much bigger part then you might think going into this, but you will enjoy the great chemistry between the two as they are played by two brilliant performers. The emotion that the two share alone and also together is a driving force in this production. Leonardo DiCaprio who is always known to put everything he can into a role delivers a excellent performance as Hoover. We watch as he is constantly groomed by his mother into what she wants him to be so he in a sense is still a lost child never really knowing or trusting who is really is. And although he is a perfectionist that keen sense is what helped bring the FBI to be so good at solving crimes with little to no evidence. That torment though starts to take a toll on Hoover at a young age and continues to grow along with his view of corruption that by the end makes his judgment so clouded he can not trust anyone. As for Naomi Watts, Josh Lucas and Judi Dench, they all deliver great performances especially Dench who is always fantastic. Although those three are involved in good portions of the movie they still have some small parts. Watts as the devoted assistant follows Hoover no matter what and is in part a trusted part of Hoovers team. Lucas who plays Charles Lindbergh did a fantastic job of playing a father desperate to get his child back turning to whoever he can. And Dench plays Hoover’s controlling mother who makes it seem like Hoover was more like a project to improve on more than a son. But the best performance in this movie was done by relative newcomer Armie Hammer who became well known after is excellent performance as the Winklevoss twins in last years “The Social Network”. Hammer who plays Tolson does a brilliant job of relaying his feelings, while outside the office he is just a good friend of Hoover, in just the two’s company he isn’t quick to hide is feelings. The best scenes to show Hammer’s range of emotions is the scenes when he and Hoover are on vacation and Hoover tells Tolson something he doesn’t want to hear. Hammer fully shows us the love that Tolson has for Hoover and the sadness he has for not getting that same love shown back to him. If Hammer doesn’t get any kind of reigniting for his performance in this coming award season then that would just be awful as he has done a great thing hear by matching and sometimes over taking DiCaprio.
Overall it looks as if “J. Edgar” won’t be one of the best films of the year like we all hoped. While it does have some great things going on mostly in the acting department with fantastic performances from DiCaprio and Hammer. The flaws of the script and makeup effects keep this from it’s glory. While I may watch this again one day, I doubt I’ll be running out to buy this on DVD. This isn’t one you will be missing out on if you wait to rent it, which is something I suggest you do.