J. EDGAR Movie Review
Expectations can be a doozy. And, boy did they destroy Clint Eastwood’s (Invictus, Changeling) newest film J. EDGAR. Combining a prestigious director with a lovable actor and telling the story of a highly controversial man should automatically raise the bar of expectations. Unfortunately, J. Edgar fails to meet these expectations.
So, I am here to lower your expectations.
J. Edgar is the story of John Edgar Hoover (Leonardo DiCaprio), the first director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), who saw his fair share of controversy up until (and after) his death in 1972. Although we have a building commemorating his duty to the United States, it has come under scrutiny due to his controversial tenure, where Hoover toiled with exceeding jurisdiction, secretive files, blackmail, and possible sexual promiscuity.
Starting with the Palmer Raids, the film follows the life of Hoover, weaving from past to present, which slowly (emphasis on slowly) tells the story of his life. We get to see famous historical events play out onscreen, which is a lot considering he was in office for over 40 years. We also get to witness the blatant Communist paranoia.
At the core, this film could profoundly paint a deep (and controversial) picture of the face of the FBI. We’ve got a rich context for what should be a memorable, and rewatchable, historical biopic.
Instead, we get a film that can’t focus on what picture it wants to paint. It creates a few different stories that might be worth their own film, but can’t deliver as deeply as they should. We’re left with a film that is forced to skim the surface, rather than plunge to the depths. The result is an unfortunate letdown.
The main elephant in the room, Hoover’s possible homosexual relationship with his best friend (and colleague) Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer), is the main problem. Based on pure speculation (like much of the film), Eastwood was forced to present everything as a hint, saying “this may have happened, but we aren’t sure.” He choose to make Hoover’s sexuality the main conflict in character, which upon further review, was a poor decision.
Nowadays, the thing that would make him seem like a controversial person would be his power hungry nature, coupled with his paranoia. His borderline corruption, and his need to obtain and retain power within the FBI and U.S. government, categorizes him as more of a villain than anything else could. Unfortunately, this part of the story is shortchanged, leaving it out of the forefront.
This isn’t to say the movie is absolutely terrible. Perhaps the expectations were a little too high to begin with. Maybe I’m being a little too hard on it since the movie didn’t take the risks I was wanting and had a different agenda. But, by the end of the lengthy film (137 minutes), I was wondering how the film took so long to create such a small reaction. I just honestly can’t see myself watching this movie ever again.
On the positive side, Leonardo DiCaprio is undeniably awesome as the title character. From his speaking style to his physical decay, he does it all. Props to the makeup department for aging him so well, it was seamless throughout the movie. Also, kudos to the set design for creating a great period setting, I can only imagine how difficult that would be.
All in all, J. Edgar does hint at some pretty tough questions, even if you have to stretch to find them. The ones that should’ve been the central questions end up being afterthoughts. The result is a relatively shallow film that is way too long. It lacks much action, and lags from past to present without thoroughly entertaining or captivating. Anyone who knows anything about J. Edgar Hoover will know the potential of a good story, but those who see it will likely feel letdown.
The potential doesn’t exceed the expectations.
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