*** (out of 5)
November 11, 2011
Leonardo DiCaprio as J. EDGAR HOOVER
Naomi Watts as HELEN GANDY
Armie Hammer as CLYDE TOLSON
Judi Dench as ANNIE HOOVER
Josh Lucas as CHARLES LINDBERGH
Directed by: Clint Eastwood
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
Let me start by saying I have the utmost respect for Clint Eastwood. Here is a man whose career has spanned more than half a century. He’s directed dozens of films and starred in even more. He is the true triple, quadruple and quintuple threat for Hollywood. Some of his movies are fantastic, and others not so much. Eastwood has changed the face of cinema in many ways, and few in this business can say this.
Now, with all that said, I have to admit that I’ve never been a huge fan of his directing. Eastwood is a deliberate director who paces his films slowly and smoothly. As he’s gotten older, that pace has slowed even more, and that’s part of what makes his new movie “J. Edgar” suffer.
The film tells the story of J. Edgar Hoover (Leonardo DiCaprio), from a young and eager lawman to the notorious political figure of the 60s and 70s. A good portion of the film focuses on the founding and growth of the FBI, as well as his political shenanigans and files he kept on everyone from immigrants to Presidents. However, Eastwood also focuses on Hoover’s personal life, from the strong bond with his overbearing mother to his unrequited love for friend and fellow G-man Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer).
Like George Clooney and Kevin Spacey, Eastwood is one of those filmmakers who drops at least one award movie in November or December. The last couple years have been pretty dismal for his films. “Hereafter” was a bust, and “Invictus” was atrocious. Aside from “Gran Torino” the year before, his other films of late have been only mediocre.
Taking this into consideration, “J. Edgar” isn’t bad. It’s not at the level of “Gran Torino” or even “Letters from Iwo Jima,” but it’s quite a bit better than his other Oscar grabs from the past few years. Again, that isn’t saying much considering his level of quality, but I’d like to give the man the benefit of the doubt.
There are parts of “J. Edgar” that are quite good. The look of the film is sharp, and the cinematography really works for the period. It’s refreshing to see a film that isn’t completely handheld with herky-jerky camera movement. The acting is also pretty solid. DiCaprio does a good job and will probably get nominations for this role, but that’s more because award crowds go for this kind of thing more than absolute brilliance in the performance. Naomi Watts and Armie Hammer also deliver well in this film.
But the acting is not all great. Judi Dench, who is a wonderful actress, is woefully miscast as Hoover’s mother. She’s just too old, especially in the scenes with Hoover as a young man or child. Similarly, Jeffrey Donovan from TV’s “Burn Notice” is laughable as Robert Kennedy. He brings a similar cheesy accent that he had in Eastwood’s “Changeling,” reminding us that he’s really just a one-note TV star rather than a quality film actor.
Overall, the pacing of “J. Edgar” isn’t too bad, though it begins with Eastwood’s signature plink-plink of piano music, and the ending draws out more than it should. Ultimately, the scenes of Hoover’s achievements were most interesting to me: the formation of the FBI, his attempt to catch the Lindbergh kidnapper and the tete-a-tetes he had with political figures. It was during the relationship scenes where I lost interest. They were just boring to me.
Those are the scenes that are going to ruffle the feathers of most of Hoover’s supporters because a lot of people apparently still get upset in regards to his sexual orientation and allegations of cross dressing. For me, it’s not a big deal. I’m not sure how historically accurate the rest of the film is, but Eastwood obviously takes some dramatic license with the specific scenes because these were unrecorded private moments. But Eastwood also handles these with sensitivity and care.
Perhaps if this film were released in the 80s, it’d be more notorious. Otherwise, I’d like to think that as a society, we can get past our nervousness about such issues.
So while I didn’t hate “J. Edgar,” I didn’t love it either. It’s a perfectly mediocre picture typical of award season, running too long with some good performances but lacking a definitive punch.