Since 2008’s Gran Torino, Clint Eastwood has struggled to bring award worthy films to the screen. 2009’s Invictus was missing that bit of movie magic to make it great and Hereafter was so lost in a convoluted message that it never came up for air. Even after those aforementioned films I still had the hope of greatness when I walked into J. Edgar. Eastwood had swapped Damon for DiCaprio and found a story that screamed Oscar throughout its 137 minute run time. The only thing I felt was holding the film back was its subject matter.
J. Edgar Hoover was never a person that I would label as likable and the thought of spending two hours in his flickering presence was nothing I could imagine enjoying. I’ve always leaned more in the favor of the rebels and in any film that depicted J. Edgar as a hero had immediately lost my interest. I had been trained my whole life to think of the man as the enemy and I cringe a bit when I hear a speech flow off his tongue. Eastwood’s version of J. Edgar did nothing to change this and if anything left me with the same feelings on the matter.
Eastwood dictates Edgar’s life through flashbacks as an FBI agent types it on the page. Focusing less on the stories that most of us have heard before and looking more at the unknown parts of J. Edgar’s life and most notably his rumored sexuality. The film depicts the former FBI Director as a man that struggled with his love for associate director of the FBI Clyde Tolson until his death. This choice of direction left me intrigued until the film’s credit roll, all due to the attention to detail by Eastwood and his stellar cast.
Most notably was Leonardo DiCaprio as J. Edgar Hoover, a role that may land him the elusive best actor Oscar. That is not saying that DiCaprio is better in J. Edgar than Blood Diamond, The Aviator, or Gilbert Grape. It’s just that this film has everything that an actor needs to grab that golden statue. It’s a period piece, it depicts a character faced with inner struggles, and takes place at both ends of said character’s life. DiCaprio takes all of this and creates a highlight reel of everything he has to offer as an actor. While his depiction of J. Edgar creates a character that is cold, distant, and unlikable it still is one of the most interesting depictions of the year. The image I had of DiCaprio was gone and all that was left was J. Edgar Hoover.
To close out this review without mentioning the talented Armie Hammer would be a wrong doing. The Social Network had shown that he was more talented than his IMDB page would lead you to believe. His depiction of blood-sucking twins that rowed crew was something worth noting, but nowhere near as astonishing as his role in J. Edgar. As Clyde Tolson, Hammer has shown that he has what it takes and the fact the he was able to stand up against DiCaprio and not get lost on the way shows that this won’t be the last time you hear his name. I wouldn’t be surprised if this role landed him a best supporting actor nod, an honor that he would definitely be deserving.
Realistically there is no role in this film that is not worth mentioning. Each character added a tiny piece to the puzzle that is J. Edgar; while some had to do so through poorly designed prosthetics. Every historical cameo reveals a different layer of the man’s life and his struggles with his own achievements. Stoically subdued performances by Naomi Watts are only matched by the more sinister efforts of Judi Dench. You are never left with the feeling that everyone involved with the creation of this film is not giving it all they have.
While I enjoyed the movie and the attention to detail served both by its creator and actors alike I can’t say it’s something that I would take pleasure in seeing again. Eastwood’s J. Edgar will leave you squirming in your seat with your mouth open and your glare at the screen. In no way will you come away feeling good about the man that you’ve just spent two hours with, but that’s not the goal of the film. It’s Eastwood’s main intention to leave you with an unappealing taste in your mouth. J. Edgar tells a story that will have you intrigued for days and angry at blatant misuse of power that is still relevant today. Every actor on the screen will captivate you, the elaborate sets will have your eye darting across the screen, and in the end you will be reminded of that little piece of movie magic that separates the good films from the great.
I give J. Edgar 4 “Pieces of Oscar Bait” out of 5.
By Ryan Davis