J Edgar Movie Review
Do you like brooding? Than this is the movie for you.
I am a fan of Clint Eastwood movies. I think he is a talented movie director who gets the most out of his actors, whom he has cast with expert precision. That being said, I don’t think J Edgar was his best effort.
To be sure, it is entertaining, and Leonardo DiCaprio (Inception, Titanic. Titanic image courtesy of the Funny T Shirt category) delivers a stellar performance, with excellent dialog, supporting cast, and visuals that transport you back to the periods in question. The problem is I felt I was watching two different movies at the same time. The first one was a History Channel documentary about the creation of the FBI with no real connection from period event to period event. The second was a character study of a miserably closeted megalomaniac who let his obsession with Communists rule his life. The movie started out more documentary and in time shifted more towards the character study, but finished up floundering around looking for an ending more tangible than “and then he died and was dead happily ever after.”
This was not a feel good movie in any way. For the most part all the main characters are miserable throughout the film, especially Hoover, and the documentary of the FBI makes a lot of American history look dark, and even manages to cast aspersion onto some of the great triumphs of the FBI. I actually applaud this dedication to the art of movie making, rather than the art of creating worthless pap for the mindless consumption of the American population. However, know going in that you will likely not come out feeling any better when the credits roll.
The story is, of course, the history of the FBI as told from the perspective of the founder, J Edgar Hoover. It goes through founding as a branch of the Department of Justice and highlights some of the more infamous cases, particularly the Lindbergh baby. It details how Hoover got the Bureau started, and each step of the steady increase of power they enjoyed. During the course of the movie we see details of his paranoia regarding Communists, his need for acknowledgement and adulation, and most significantly his lifelong suppression of his true sexuality. This was most strongly manifested with his relationship with his best friend Clyde Tolson (Arnie Hammer-the Social Network) who was also deep in the closet. It is also reflected in his relationship with his spinster assistant Helen Gandy (Naomi Watts-King Kong, the Ring, Mulholland Drive) and his controlling mother (Judi Dench-Quantum of Solace, Casino Royale).
Don’t get me wrong. This movie was good in many ways, and an order of magnitude better than most these days. The problem is the fact that it views like reading someones diary. Each chapter is almost a complete story in and of itself, with the overriding theme being repressed homosexuality. That self imposed repression turns into the worst part about this movie, as you sit there willing any person on screen to do anything at all to make themselves happy. It tends to make the movie very frustrating to watch.
The stars. The acting from everyone, especially Leonardo DiCaprio, was excellent. Three stars. Good dialog with effective direction and filming. One star. Very much in period. You really feel like you are in the 30’s, especially when Hoover takes over the smoking lounge for his crime lab and one of the evicted agents asks “Where shall we smoke?”. One star. No attempt was made to “happy up” the ending in order to suit the tastes of the unwashed masses. One star. The story was a very interesting piece of American history. One star. A detailed character study and illustration of the stress and frustration of not accepting your own sexuality. One star. Total: eight stars.
The black holes. Frustrating. One black hole. The whole documentary style story telling thing. One black hole. The ending felt horribly unresolved and incomplete. In spite of going 137 minutes the film felt about 15 minutes short. One black hole. There were a few points where the pacing seemed to drag on. A heavier hand on the editing might have been called for. One black hole. Total: four black holes.
So a total of four stars. Not bad, but it could have been a lot better. I was actually expecting more from a Clint Eastwood film. It’s no Gran Torino. However, worth watching. I don’t know how it would do as a date film, unless you are gay, in which case you and your partner will probably leave the film with an overwhelming sense of gratitude that you are out. If you are a fan of 20th century American history I think you might well enjoy it. Worth seeing, but maybe wait for video.
After watching the upper crust of film making I think I need to lower my brain down, and will therefore see A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas this afternoon. Look for that review tomorrow. Thanks for reading. Follow me on Twitter @NerdKungFu. Talk to you later.