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.