J. Edgar Hoover is one of the most famous, important, mysterious, and occasionally hated men in American history. With a very distinct personality and set of regulations, he seemed to single handedly establish the FBI and make it into a law enforcement agency to reckon with. Clint Eastwood and writer Dustin Lance Black attempt to bring to light some of the mystery behind Hoover in a biopic that may be well filmed, but hardly memorable.
The story is told by J. Edgar Hoover (Leonardo DiCaprio), himself, for a memoir that he wants to tell his side of the story. As he dictates his words to agency ghost writers, flash backs begin to show the audience important moments of his life. At a young age, and early in his career, he meets Helen Gandy (Naomi Watts), who became his longtime secretary and closest associate. He also meets Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer), Hoover’s second in command and personal confidante, whom Hoover may or may not had a secret sexual relationship with. On the business side, we see the founding of the FBI, Hoover’s push for the deportation of Communist supporters and potential terrorists, his involvement with the Lindbergh kidnapping, and many other events that formed the tapestry of Hoover’s life.
As a biopic, J. Edgar is expected to cover a lot of ground. Dustin Lance Black has proven that he has the ability to write films like this with his previous work as the screenwriter of Milk, which I consider to be one of the most successful biopics ever to be made. J. Edgar isn’t difficult to understand, but it seemed very scattered. This isn’t too much of a problem since the outcome is being able to see a complete arc in Hoover’s life. One thing that was more problematic was that there wasn’t really a stance on Hoover’s activities. There was a clear opinion that the movie had. By the end of J. Edgar, I don’t feel like I know enough to form my own opinion. In that way, the movie fails.
I remember when this movie was first released, there was a lot of talk about the make up. Leonardo DiCaprio, Armie Hammer, and Naomi Watts all play older versions of their respective characters, so they all had to undergo many hours in the make up chair. There are a lot of jokes that I’ve heard about the make up and people saying it looked terrible, but in my opinion, it looked pretty damn good. There were scenes, especially with DiCaprio, that the make up did seem to become more noticeable, but most scenes he looked just fine. Naomi Watt’s make up, however, looked outstanding and was completely believable. All of the costumes really worked, and Clint Eastwood’s apparent love for desaturating his movies beyond what seems reasonable works very well to get the old time vibe across.
It’s pretty obvious that this movie was intended to be Oscar bait, although that didn’t really happen as well as everyone expected. Before I saw the movie, I was sure that DiCaprio would get an Oscar nomination, but after seeing it, I understand why not. His performance was very heavy handed, verbally. His actions and expressions were all great, but I just couldn’t buy whatever accent he was doing. It just sounded odd. As for everyone else, there isn’t really anything special to say. They all did fine without really giving any incredibly memorable performances.
J. Edgar is not a bad movie, but it doesn’t quite achieve the expectations that it put forth. It’s not too difficult to follow, as I expected it would be, but everything just doesn’t feel as great as it could have been. It can’t be easy making a biopic about a man as secretive as J. Edgar Hoover, but by the end of the movie, I don’t really feel like I learned too much about the man, but more about his more public actions. It was interesting to see the history of the FBI, but as for the subject of Hoover, I’m still as much in the dark as everyone else.