J. Edgar

Sometimes the free promotional Blu-rays that Warner Brother’s sends, gives me the opportunity to view a picture I have never seen. J Edgar is one such flick. I guess I was more interested in seeing Immortals the weekend this was released. Apparently so were a lot of other people. This only grossed $37 million in the U.S. In the weeks leading up to the January announcement of the 2012 Academy Award nominations, many sources predicted Leonardo DiCaprio for Best Actor. Although the film failed to get a single nod of any kind, this still remained a picture I wanted to see. Now, 7 months after debuting in theaters, I’m happy to finally cross this off my list.

J Edgar is a meandering biographical overview on the life of the 1st Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. It’s told in flashback as Hoover is dictating his memoirs to various FBI agents chosen as writers.  Let’s face it.   J Edgar is boring.  No two ways about it, the story is laborious. It’s difficult to understand who the target audience was for this hodgepodge. It fails to entertain both history buffs and movie lovers alike. I mean it makes The Aviator seem simple and straightforward by comparison.

Director Clint Eastwood has a lack of passion for his subject. It’s as if he was handed a school assignment regarding a figure he couldn’t care less about. As a result we’re left with a man we have no interest in as well. Eastwood’s condemnatory take is of a man out to destroy people’s reputations while simultaneously trying to hide his own true sexuality. Hoover was a polarizing figure. Great biographies have been made concerning individuals far less likeable or interesting than Hoover, but they had a focus that engaged the mind. The narrative here is disjointed. Clint Eastwood’s bloated opus lacks a defining moment as it trudges on for a seemingly unending 2 hours and 17 minutes. He superficially touches on assorted controversial aspects without ever delving deeper as to why we should be fascinated by this man. Random samples of Hoover’s existence are presented one after the other without any unifying thread other than the man at the center of it all.

The movie is unsuccessful in other important, albeit less significant, ways. For one thing, it’s unnecessarily dark. Not in mood, but in physical brightness. Many scenes are dimly lit and it’s impossible to see everything that’s going on. Furthermore, Hoover and his protégé Clyde Tolson look positively ridiculous in their old age makeup. The prosthetics are ungainly and unnatural looking. Actor Armie Hammer’s face is covered in liver spots. The makeup is at the very least, distracting. I think a little restraint would’ve been preferable. DiCaprio doesn’t remotely resemble the actual man he’s playing so simply casting an older, more rotund actor for later sequences would’ve been a smarter choice. This is not to take away from his achievement. If there is a high point, it’s in Leonardo DiCaprio’s bravura performance as the title character. He’s definitely engaging. It’s not enough to save the film, but it makes tolerating this prolonged chore a little less painful.

17 Responses to “J. Edgar”

  1. Well-done review. I agree, the makeup was aggravating to the very core. Armie Hammer, especially, looked like a zombie. I remember dying to see this because of Leonardo DiCaprio. I’ve always been stunned by his performances. I think I gave this an A- (four stars, on your scale), but if I saw it today, it’d probably be a more reasonable 3.5 stars, if not 3 stars. I knew how much time was passing, but I was still pretty entertained because of DiCaprio’s performance. He should have at least been nominated for Best Actor. I don’t know why, but I still found myself fascinated with J. Edgar Hoover.


    • I think the real J. Edgar Hoover was a fascinating person and so it would be pretty hard to make a movie about him so routine. Somehow Eastwood managed to do just that. This could’ve been so much more.


  2. Yes, I agree this was a bore-fest. But not only that, it lacked focus. Pick one part of his life and build a story around that. They just kept adding more and more situations, it was hard to care about anything.


    • Totally agree. I wish they didn’t tell it in flashback. The device where Hoover recounts the “highlights” of his life made the film seem like just a bunch of vignettes. Nothing held together and there was a surprising lack of excitement as the events were presented.


  3. Was initially excited for this since it was Eastwood/DiCaprio but then everything about it just seemed sterile. Very spot on about it being like a school assignment, even without seeing it that’s how I viewed it.


    • I usually see everything I want to at the theater right away. I guess deep down I kind of felt the movie was going to have issues. But I was willing to give it a chance. Often the critics are wrong. Not in this case apparently.


  4. 1hickpress Says:

    Good review. I really wanted to see this when I first heard about it, but I was completely let down on basically level you could think of. It was so boring and they seemed to skate around so many important parts of J. Edgar Hoover’s life. How can they have so much material to work with and come up with this?


  5. martin250 Says:

    saw this maybe 2 months ago. since i know little about the Hoover, i found it educational and quite interesting. despite his issues, his efforts in organizing and disciplining the department was somewhat admirable. you mention above that there is a brilliant movie to be made about him. is this film missing information on the man? or was it just too dispassionate and boring?


    • martin250 Says:

      correction..”about Hoover”…


    • I can’t comment on whether it was missing information as I know little about the man. If anything it had too much. Eastwood should have decided what the point of his story would be. A series of random vignettes loosely strung together doesn’t make for a very engaging film. It needed focus. Perhaps he should have made a documentary instead. That wouldn’t have relied as heavily on basic storytelling techniques.


    • @Martin250 I think that you found it interesting because it is a very strong film about a fascinating subject.


  6. Good review Mark. There are problems with the story mainly because it feels like we are just going through all of these events that happened in Hoover’s life, without any real connection or anything. However, DiCaprio’s performance is great and Eastwood really does know how to direct any type of film and at least bring out some rich drama with its story even if it may be a bit muddled.


  7. I agree 100% with this. It’s boring, it’s visibly dark to watch (god knows how people didn’t fall asleep watching it in a darkened theatre), and it’s just so static that you’re waiting desperately for something to happen, though nothing ever does.


  8. Great review. I agree, this was quite long and boring and the makeup was awful, but the acting saved it, in my opinion.


  9. sanclementejedi Says:

    I had such high hope for this film. I don’t see how they managed to make such an interesting historical figure into such an utter bore. Nice post


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