PG Cooper: J. Edgar Review

Posted: November 20, 2011 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

Release date: November 11th, 2011

Running time: 137 minutes

Written by: Dustin Lance Black

Directed by: Clint Eastwood

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Armie Hammer, Naomi Watts, Damon Herriman, and Judi Dench

Clint Eastwood has become on of the most respected film makers of the last twenty years, and a personal favourite director of mine. From Unforgiven, to Mystic River, to Letters From Iwo Jima, Clint Eastwood has put out some of the most critically acclaimed films in years. When I heard he’d be directing a script from Dustin Lance Black (Milk) based on the life of J. Edgar Hoover with A-list actor Leonardo DiCaprio in the lead, I was pretty damn excited. It looked like the film was destine to be one of the critical darlings of the year. Strangely, the film opened to mixed reviews. I was surprised, but ultimately didn’t care. Clint Eastwood has directed some of my favourite films of all time and I’ll be damned if some negative  reviews were gonna keep me from one of his films. So does J. Edgar rank among Clint’s best, or should I have listened to the reviews after all.

The film focuses on how J. Edgar Hoover (Leonardo DiCaprio) revolutionized the FBI and crime investigation as a whole. Events depicted include the investigation of the Lindbergh kidnapping, the death of John Dillinger, Hoover’s propaganda, his strained relationship with his mother, and perhaps most importantly, Hoover’s potentially homosexual relationship with co-worker Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer). The film cuts between two different times, one following Hoover’s exploits in the FBI as a young man, the other being him as an old man writing his memoirs.

Easily the best thing about J. Edgar is the great performance from Leonardo DiCaprio. I knew DiCaprio would be fantastic, and he didn’t disappoint. His portrayal of J. Edgar shows him as a very complicated man. He’s proud of his work and what he can do, but also insecure. One of the most interesting aspects of Edgar is the obsession he had for being admired. This obsession stemmed out of him always wanting to please his mother and never feeling like he truly made her proud. In this way, I found Edgar very similar to both Charles Foster Kane (Citizen Kane) and Norman Bates (Psycho). DiCaprio really sinks into the part and makes a character that’s both fascinating as well as someone the audience sympathizes with. There are times where he does some very dishonest things, yet I found myself feeling for him anyway. I wouldn’t be surprised to see DiCaprio get an Oscar Nomination for his work here. Hell, he might even win depending on how the rest of the year goes.

While no performance quite matches up to DiCaprio, the rest of the cast is also quite good. I was really impressed with Armie Hammer, who played Clyde Tolson, J. Edgar’s lover. I really liked Hammer in last year’s The Social Network and was wondering when I’d see him again, or even if I’d see him again. After watching him in J. Edgar, it’s clear Hammer is here to stay. Hammer is extremely likable in this film and I completely understands why J. Edgar would fall in love with Tolson. Tolson is also probably the character that challenges J. Edgar the most. There a lot of warm scenes between the two, but also some very tense scenes as well, and they play off each other brilliantly. I also love the way their affair was handled. It was fairly subtle and not completely spelled out, yet anyone paying attention will clearly see the two are others. With so much talk about DiCaprio getting an Oscar nomination (myself included), I’d also like to put forward Armie Hammer for a potential Best Supporting Actor nomination. I may not feel that way by years end, but he should definitely be considered, especially at this point.

This film also stands on it’s technical merits. Particularly impressive are the make-up effects used when Hoover is an old man. DiCaprio, Hammer, and Naomi Watts are all put in old age make-up and the effects are great. I completely bought the make-up and could clearly see a link between the young and the old characters. The cinematography is also very good and the art direction and costumes are period appropriate and look great. And of course, it’s a Clint Eastwood film, so the whole thing has a sheen of professionalism.

For all my praise, I’ve neglected to talk about the story and that’s because most of the film’s problems come from the script. I’m not saying the story wasn’t interesting, it was, the problem is the film tries to do way too much. There are so many stories here that they end up bogging the film down. The film also cuts between different times too much to the point where the cuts become jarring. On top of that, the film is 2 hours and 17 minutes long and you feel that runtime. There were quite a few moments where I thought the film dragged. Now with that said, even if there are too many stories, they’re all interesting and I enjoyed watching them play out. On top of that, the film has some very interesting themes like on how to use the media to gain what you want, and how historical figures can shape and reshape their legacy as they see fit.

So to answer my question from the first paragraph, J. Edgar does not rank among the best Clint Eastwood films, but it is a good film, and I’m not going to hate on it just because Clint Eastwood has done better. It has some serious script and pacing problems which hold it back, but the film does more right than it does wrong. This isn’t a movie that I can recommend to a lot of people, the slow pace alone is gonna turn a lot of people off. But for all it’s problems, I still really enjoy J. Edgar.

Rating: B+

  1. CMrok93 says:

    Good review PG. 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.

  2. steandric says:

    I think the credits clearly say this film stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Naomi Watts, Armie Hammer, Josh Lucas and Judi Dench. Why did you alter it?

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