J. Edgar * * *

Genre: Drama

Director: Clint Eastwood

Writer: Dustin Lance Black

Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Armie Hammer, Naomi Watts, Judi Dench

Running Length: 137 minutes

Synopsis: J. Edgar explores the public and private life of one of the most powerful, controversial and enigmatic figures of the 20th century. As the face of law enforcement in America for almost fifty years, J. Edgar Hoover (Leonardo DiCaprio) was feared and admired, reviled and revered. But behind closed doors, he held secrets that would have destroyed his image, his career and his life.

Review: J. Edgar is not one of Clint Eastwood’s strongest works, despite an excellent lead performance and a number of compelling scenes. Perhaps this is due partially to Dustin Lance Black’s script, which seems reluctant to delve deeper into J. Edgar’s psyche, choosing instead to present a rather superficial view of the man. There are lengthy scenes in the film which are very low key, and this is likely to lead to an emotional disconnect with the audience members.

The narrative structure of J. Edgar is, surprisingly, rather clunky, although it depends on the usual flashback and flashback-within-flashback shorthand. Although brownie points should be given for tackling a story that spans 7 decades, the segue between “present” and “past” is sometimes rather clumsily done. What is also extremely jarring is the subpar makeup, and the worst offender is that of Armie Hammer, who looks like he’s two hundred years old under a layer of overdone speckled makeup that truly detracts from audience immersion.    

The only actor to rise above the makeup is Leonardo DiCaprio, who puts forth a career-best performance as J. Edgar, perfectly portraying every aspect of the man. He disappears into the role, which is an essential part of any successful biographical depiction. It’s certainly an Oscar-worthy performance, but DiCaprio is unfortunately snubbed in this year’s nominations. Unsurprisingly, the only other actor that impresses is Judi Dench (mercifully not drowned under makeup) in her small handful of scenes – the scene where she utters the chilling “I would rather have a dead son than a daffodil for a son” is certainly one of the most emotionally impactful.  

What the script doesn’t shy away from is J. Edgar’s sexuality, and this is possibly one of the most overt depictions of J Edgar’s asexuality/homosexuality. Although it takes a while to get to J Edgar’s proclivities, when it does get there, the film is enlivened to such a great extent that his sexuality becomes the film’s focus. Not that there’s anything wrong in that, and this does make parts of the film somewhat akin to a tender love story (particularly the denouement), but given that plenty of J. Edgar’s life and career have been left out of the movie despite its length, one can’t help but feel slightly underwhelmed by the time the end credits roll.     

Rating: *** (out of four stars)


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