Clint Eastwood's J Edgar is an asshole who won't come out of the closet. Surely there is more to the controversial first director of the FBI and one of the most powerful and enigmatic figures of the 20th century? Alas, not in the case of this J Edgar. Maybe it's because his secretary Helen Gandy shredded all of his "private files" after he died. Whatever the reason, one fact remains true: for movies in general (and biopics in particular) to be successful, two ingredients are required: strong performances and a good story. J Edgar has neither. Hit the jump for my review.
J Edgar describes the public and private life of J Edgar Hoover who, as you know by now, was the first director of the FBI and the face of American law enforcement for over 50 years. A jealous, secretive and even paranoid man, Hoover was no stranger to controversy. One such controversy was the main focus of the film: the rumour surrounding his alleged homosexuality. Screenwriter Dustin Lance Black previously scripted Gus Van Sant's Milk, and should therefore be au fait with the subtlety and delicacy required to do proper justice to material of this nature. Unfortunately though, these moments in the film were generally contrived and occasionally comical, climaxing at a moment when Hoover puts on his dead mother's dress. I shit you not!
An old fan of Leonardo DiCaprio and a more recent one of Armie Hammer (who plays Hoover's "partner" Clyde Tolson) could be forgiven for expecting a pair of powerhouse performances in this film. However, that was not to be, and I don't for one minute blame the actors. Their performances were buried in the rubble of Clint Eastwood's creative choices. The only way to prevent this review from sounding like the rants of a madman would be to remain as brief as possible in this department. So, with brevity as my mantra, above mentioned rubble included: poor writing (not only the dialogue, but the pacing and an attempt to cover a little bit of everything resulted in an uninteresting mess); overwrought cinematography (all subtlety went out the window here); an irritating score (Eastwood should stop composing these scores himself or letting his son help out. Kyle Eastwood wasn't credited, but the score sounded almost exactly like most of his last films); and last but certainly not least, terrible make-up (Hammer and DiCaprio as old men looked like Hammer and DiCaprio as young men at a Halloween party, constituting probably the single largest contribution to their disappointing performances. DiCaprio is forced into pulling faces like in the above photo just to make his expression show through all that make-up, and no matter how hard Hammer tried, he couldn't get through his layer).
As almost always, there were some redeeming qualities in the film. For one, Naomi Watts delivered another wonderful performance as Helen Gandy, even though I couldn't bear seeing her as an old lady. A steely and powerful character, it is a pity she wasn't utilised more. As the person closest to the innermost secrets of America's most secretive man, and the very person who destroyed those secrets on his death, surely she could have added to the story? Another potential redemption arrived toward the end of the film, in the form of a few stylishly written voice-over narrations by Hoover (one of which appears in the trailer). Unfortunately these went to waste as well, since each time you dare think "that is actually quite a great closing line", Eastwood cuts to the next scene.
In a nutshell then, J Edgar was yet another underwhelming effort from Dirty Harry himself. At the age of 81 and having directed no less than 10 movies in the last 9 years, maybe Blondie should slow down a little. Make no mistake, I am crazy about the man, and he has directed some of my favourite films of all time. I am just a little disappoint.
4.5 out of 10