The first—and probably last—pairing of director Clint Eastwood and Leonardo DiCaprio proves a sloppy, drawn out, lumbering failure with J. Edgar. This leaden dud qualifies as one of the movie year’s hugest disappointments.
Most of the blame goes to Eastwood, who uses droning voice-overs and a washed out visual approach that just spells boring. The subject matter calls for something epic, but Eastwood’s dreary choices make it uncomfortably intimate and small. It just feels awkward. Eastwood apparently shot this film quickly on a modest budget, and it shows.
And, it must be said; the normally reliable Mr. DiCaprio is miscast this time out. He’s all wrong for a part that requires him to age almost 50 years. And the voice he employs, especially during the ponderous voice over narration, sounds as though he is attempting his best Darth Vader impersonation.
FBI director J. Edgar Hoover was the sort of tyrannical bastard that called for something that explodes on the screen. Billy Crudup portrayed his younger version in Michael Mann’s Public Enemies to great effect. The same can’t be said for DiCaprio, although perhaps he would’ve done better had Eastwood allowed him to come out of the dark on occasion. He’s constantly shrouded in shadows for this movie.
Written by Dustin Lance Black (Milk), the film focuses on Hoover’s insecurities and hypocritical behavior. There’s plenty of time spent on his alleged homosexual relationship with co-worker Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer). The film falls short of openly saying the two me were together, but it drops its fair share of hints, including a wrestling match culminating in a big, bloody kiss.
History shows some proof that Hoover and Tolson were lovers. But since it was never admitted to by either of them, the film doesn’t have two legs to stand on when it comes to the presentation of their relationship. So, Eastwood really has no choice but to half-ass it. Every intimate scene they have beyond holding hands is pure speculation. In the end, the film has the odd feeling of being both bold and scared of itself at the same time.
DiCaprio, looking silly in bad aging makeup, spends much of this movie in a dark room with his mother (Judi Dench). This movie dwells far too much on Hoover’s mother issues. So much so that when he finally puts on a dress (as the man was rumored to have done in his spare time) in a particularly strange scene, I half expected him to don a wig, grab a large knife, and go next door to kill Jason Leigh in the shower.
Eastwood also provides the soundtrack, and it’s his usual, tinkling soft jazz piano noise that does nothing but amplify the movie’s lethargy. Something with a little more “oomph” might’ve given this movie some much-needed life.
This movie actually makes such historic instances as the Lindbergh kidnapping and the Kennedy assassination boring. It all floats by in a jazzy haze with DiCaprio scowling through increasing layers of makeup. And he actually looks good compared to the aging Hammer, who looks like the bad results of Hammer’s projected older self copulating with a slug.
J. Edgar is proof that some stories are more suited to a 10-hour miniseries. It’s all over the place, accomplishing the amazing feat of making Leonardo DiCaprio look bad, and J. Edgar Hoover look like a wounded puppy dog. It would’ve been a better idea to pick a concentrated time period in Hoover’s life, preferably an earlier one to avoid the whole makeup thing. This would’ve given DiCaprio a fighting chance with the role, and allowed Eastwood a shorter time frame to focus on.
Hoover was a hardline, unrelenting bastard by all accounts except Eastwood’s. He sees him as a sad, repressed boy constantly bathed in bad jazz.