Directed By: Clint Eastwood
I saw J. Edgar a few days ago, I was overruled by my companion on what film to see. I wasn't necessarily thrilled with the choice, I actually wanted to see Tower Heist. But in retrospect, I'm glad I saw this film instead. I have always been a Leonardo DiCaprio fan and I've seen just about every film he's been in. I have more than a few of his films in my personal DVD collection. This film is directed by Academy Award winner Clint Eastwood who is a master of dark, moody tales of misunderstood heroes.
I read a little bit about J. Edgar before seeing it and I didn't peak my interest at all. It is a bio-pick about the man who began the FBI in the midsts of the cold war and his demise into senility. This type of film, on the surface, was not something I thought I would be interested in. When I saw that it had a 2 hour 17 minute running time, I let out an audible groan. In the end, I did enjoy this film but I have to say it is far from perfect and will bore most people to tears.
The film follows the life and career of J. Edgar Hoover, the young ambitious government agent who began the FBI. The film flips between Hoover's younger years as a passionate defender of the American way of life to his older years as a broken old man with a grandiose view of his own history. There is no real 'present' to this film, it just flows, seemingly, willy-nilly from one decade to another and then back again. This style of nonlinear storytelling when done right, like in Christopher Nolan's Momento, can be very powerful. But this film confuses time and events so much you can't quite keep things straight.
Dicaprio is the driving force behind this film and I thought he did a damn good job for what he was given. But unfortunately many of the supporting characters in this film were stagnant. Helen Gandy, Hoover's secretary (who is played by Naomi Watts) is a very important character in the story, but every time she walks off screen, I forget she exists. Her character serves only to say, "yes Mr. Hoover, right away Mr. Hoover."
This would be believable for the time in which the film takes place except for the fact that the first few scenes of the film, they establish that Mr. Hoover trusts Gandy with his life secrets. Gandy and Hoover work side by side for well over 30 years, yet, until his dying day Gandy treats Hoover like she'd known him only a week. There was no emotion exchanged and the chemistry between Watts and DiCaprio was awkward. I wish I could say it was intentional, but Watt's just seemed confused by her character and DiCaprio didn't know what to do with her.
Of course, the relationship that the film really focuses on is the one between Hoover and Clyde Tolson, played by Armie Hammer. I thought Hammer, like Dicaprio, did an excellent job with what he was given. I am not going to get into the semantics about wether or not Hoover was gay, but I thought in the context of this film the Hoover-Tolson relationship worked very well. Dicaprio and Hammer committed to their roles and I believed it.
Every other character in the film is forgettable. There is an attempt to mix in some big names of Hoover's era like Roosevelt, Robert Kennedy and Richard Nixon, but most passed by with out much fan fair. The filmmakers tried to incorporate too many characters and didn't develop any of them. Scene after scene new characters would appear then disappear, it is truly maddening and it contributes heavily to the confusing nature of this film.
Artistically this film was quite good. It is your classic Eastwood. Its dark with heavy use of cold colors and his signature moodiness. The film had a noir feel to it which made the film much more interesting. Over all the production design was accurate and beautiful, and the cinematography was acceptable. Eastwood is quite comfortable with his old man sensibility and it shows through out the film from the set dressing, to the costumes to the locations.
The make-up is also worth mentioning because the three major characters Hoover, Gandy and Tolson age about 40 years throughout the film. To be honest, I wasn't totally sold on it. Perhaps it is because Leo, Watts and Hammer are all very recognizable people, but the make-up looked like clay and none of the actors could move their lips properly. It was a little off putting and old Hoover looked like a bloated dead body missing its mouth.
But despite the many problems I saw in this film, I still really enjoyed it. Sitting through this film was certainly an investment, but it got me interested in a man I never knew anything about. I probably would not sit through this film again, but if you are interested in history and American politics then I encourage you to check it out.
(images are off of Google)