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J. Edgar (2011)

DVD Cover (Warner Brother)
Genres:
Biopic (Feature), Drama, Gay & Lesbian Films, Period Film, Political Drama
Director:
Clint Eastwood Clint Eastwood
Starring:
Leonardo DiCaprio Leonardo DiCaprio
Josh Hamilton Josh Hamilton
Geoff Pierson Geoff Pierson
Cheryl Lawson Cheryl Lawson
Kaitlyn Dever Kaitlyn Dever

6.5 / 10 - Overall Rating

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Review by bluemeanie
Added: November 26, 2011
There is nothing wrong with Clint Eastwood's "J. Edgar", per se. It's a solid film, a very polished, deliberate and textbook biopic about a fascinating character from American history. It features some terrific performances and has a tight and complex screenplay. But something just isn't there. I walked out of the theatre with the same feeling I had after watching "Public Enemies" -- just kind of flat. Maybe I was hoping for something more outside the box, something more than just a textbook approach. Unfortunately, there's no one to blame.

This film traces the life of J. Edgar Hoover (Leonardo DiCaprio) from his early days as an F.B.I grunt to his final days as possibly the most powerful man in the United States of America. It covers everything: his involvement in the 1919 Bolshevik bombings; the Lindbergh kidnapping; the arrests of Dillinger and other gangsters; and his wheelings and dealings with multiple U.S. Presidents and politicians. We see the J. Edgar Hoover that we've always heard about -- the quest for power and control over every aspect of the government. But we also see the side that has only been rumored, including his pseudo-homosexual relationship with Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer).

Other central characters in the film and Hoover's life were his mother (Judi Dench) and Helen Gandy (Naomi Watts), his trusted secretary with whom he entrusted everything. These four characters make up the whole of this film, though there are other notable individuals who pop up here and there, including Charles Lindbergh (Josh Lucas), Robert F. Kennedy (Jeffrey Donovan), Richard Nixon, Shirley Temple and Ginger Rogers. Most of these characters are played as broad caricature and that doesn't always work, but the 'core four' are plated remarkably well by DiCaprio, Hammer, Watts and Dench. They are really what helps elevate the picture.

The most interesting facets of Hoover's life involve his amassing secret films on various government officials, all used as a means of staying in power and always getting what he wanted. There is one especially powerful sequence where Hoover sends Martin Luther King, Jr. a threatening letter and tape in the hopes to get him to refuse his Nobel Peace Prize. We watch as Hoover expects King to turn it down; and, when he does not, we see a man starting to realize he might no longer possess the power and authority he once did.

One of the most convincing aspects of the film is the age make-up used to turn DiCaprio, Hammer and Watts into their later years. It's some of the best use of make-up in a film I've seen in a long while and it's always believable. Hammer, especially, does a terrific job of showcasing Tolson's feebleness later in life.

Missing from this film is any mention of Joseph McCarthy's Communist witch-hunt, and it did strike me odd that such an important piece of this story might be left out completely. Otherwise, we get bits and pieces of everything else your grandparents might have told you about Hoover. And it really is fascinating. Very few figures in American politics has had this kind of power and influence. Hoover dominated his world for a very long time and always found a way to stay on top. It's difficult to imagine something like that these days.

At the end of the day, I guess I most respected the impartial stance Eastwood takes on Hoover. Because, for all the wrong-doing that might have occurred, Hoover still make huge advances in the way we catch criminals. He did revolutionize the F.B.I. and intelligence as we know it. Eastwood doesn't turn him into a villain and he doesn't make him a hero either. He lets history speak for itself. I just wish he had taken some more interesting paths to get us to that conclusion. "J. Edgar" is good but just not great. It's too plain to be that. 7/10.
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