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J. Edgar Review

Kevin Noonan | Sunday, November 20, 2011


Clint Eastwood’s latest directorial effort “J. Edgar” brings new meaning to the phrase “the whole is less than the sum of the parts.”

Helmed by Eastwood, a two-time Oscar winning director, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, a three time Oscar nominated actor and Hollywood’s current can’t miss golden boy of dramatic pictures, and written by Dustin Lance Black, who won an Oscar for his original screenplay “Milk,” this biopic of former FBI head J. Edgar Hoover and one of the most infamous men in American history seemed poised for greatness.

Yet the film mires in mediocrity. Eastwood chooses to shoot the whole film in an awkwardly dark light, almost giving the impression of black and white. While he was probably trying to imply the dark times and troubled soul of the film’s protagonist, it instead takes focus away from the actual film and makes for a visually dull movie.

Speaking of visually dull, as the film takes place in the form of Hoover as an old man recounting his life story to an FBI public relations writer in order to glorify his legacy, it requires the main characters in the film to look like they’ve aged significantly. However, the aging makeup effects that DiCaprio and his costars undergo just look silly.

DiCaprio gives a typical, stellar performance from beginning to end. He’s a good actor, there’s no denying that. Still, I’m tired of seeing him play the exact same character in every single film. DiCaprio can portray an emotionally troubled and morally questionable yet quietly heroic protagonist better than anyone else.

He did it in “Shutter Island,” “Inception,” “Blood Diamond,” “The Departed,” “Gangs of New York” and now “J. Edgar.”

The next big film on DiCaprio’s slate is Baz Luhrmann’s remake of “The Great Gatsby,” in which he’ll play, hold your breath, the emotionally troubled, morally questionable yet quietly heroic Jay Gatsby.

Despite how good DiCaprio’s performance was in the film, all I could think about was every other time I’ve seen him do the exact same thing.

This, however, is nowhere close to what really drags this film down. It may hold it back from being great, but if that had been all that was wrong with this movie it would have been a very average film.

No, the biggest problem with the film was the misleading marketing of its subject matter. I walked in expecting a historical biography of one of the most powerful American men of the 20th century, because that was what I was led to believe by the film’s advertising.

What I saw, however, was a misguided attempt at a “Brokeback Mountain” style love story.

As something of a history buff, I knew quite a bit about Hoover going into the film, and so I knew about his rumored affair with his number two man Clyde Tolson, played in the film by Armie Hammer aka the character who played the Winklevoss twins from “The Social Network.”

I expected the film would touch on the affair, and would have been disappointed if it had not. What I did not expect was for Hoover’s closet homosexuality to be the center point of the whole movie, and the lens through which the story is told.

There is no homophobia here; “Brokeback Mountain” was one of most critically acclaimed love stories of the last decade. But the reason it was so well received was because it was well done and it did not shy away from its subject matter when marketing the film.

If all viewers had gone into the film expecting a John Wayne-style, shoot-‘em-up western, they would have been in for a bit of a surprise.

And even worse than the poor marketing of the film is that the story is not handled well.

Eastwood chooses to use a cross dressing scene as one of the emotional turning points of the film. It was a risky decision, and for it to work well it had to not only make sense in the greater scope of the film, but, like all emotional scenes, it also had to make the audience truly feel with the character. It did neither of those things, and therefore felt flat and awkward.

All in all, “J. Edgar” is a disappointingly and uncharacteristically below average effort for both Eastwood and DiCaprio, and one that truly does not do justice to such an intriguing and important man in American history.