Sunday, January 22, 2012
J. Edgar *½
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Armie Hammer, Naomi Watts
Judi Dench, Josh Lucas, Ed Westwick, Jeffrey Donovan, Denis O'Hare
Somewhere between his cross-dressing and legacy as one of the most controversial figures in 20th century history, J. Edgar hoover might have been a fascinating man; however you can't tell this judging by Clint Eastwood's biopic.
Leonardo DiCaprio plays Hoover as a young idealist man, all the way to the eccentric, paranoid creature he turned into towards the end of his life. The film's framing device is having Hoover dictate his biography to several typists (among them Westwick in full Chuck Bass mode), highlighting his feats and hinting at events in his private life that make us wonder if they are part of said framing device or slips in Eastwood's uneven narrative.
Shot in absolute darkness by Tom Stern, who foregoes the chiaro in chiaroscuro, the film feels like if it wants to hide things from us because it's not even sure how to tell them or if it's even allowed to tell them. We see Hoover as a young man taking charge of the newly created Bureau of Investigation, trying to solve crimes as famous as Charles Lindbergh's (Lucas) baby being kidnapped and taking credit for arresting famed gangster John Dillinger.
Throughout the film there's a sense of conflict between the screenplay and the filmed result and this makes sense because the screenplay was written by openly gay writer Dustin Lance Black who, with reason, tries to push the film's gay agenda by stressing out Hoover's infamous love of cross dressing and his strange relationship with Clyde Tolson (Hammer). There is of course nothing wrong with revealing aspects of a public figure that might've been unknown by most people, but to do so when the film being made is an homage to old studio filmmaking only works out in disastrous ways.
You get a sense, because of the film's structure, that every time Hoover's homosexuality is hinted at, Eastwood immediately "denies" it with something more "macho" and has him abuse someone or explode in a political tantrum.
The performances don't really help convey any coherent message either with DiCaprio mumbling his way throughout the running time, Hammer being eaten alive by his ridiculous old age makeup and Dench as Mama Hoover not even trying to come up with a decent American accent in her Shakespearean mama-wolf portrayal.
With its conflicting ideologies, excessive running time and preposterous selfimportance, the only person who comes up truly revealed in J. Edgar is its director, who despite a productive run as one of the most iconic American heroes is revealing signs of sad, albeit expected, senility.