Not being a devotee of American history, I was quite interested in seeing Clint Eastwood’s J. Edgar for the reason that two hours of viewing could teach me more about the man who created the FBI than I had previously learned in my entire life. The FBI seems to have lost much of their mystery over the past couple of decades; however, in cinema the organization has often served as an incredible plot device for countless thrillers and spy films. The idea that an organization could hear and see everything, or can make a problematic person disappear is frightening in real life, but just what many people are looking for in a film. I wanted to see how it all started, and I was looking forward to being entertained. My interest was also bolstered by the speculation in the film about Hoover’s sexuality and how this had upset many retired FBI agents. Sounds like a winner, right? Unfortunately, J. Edgar turns out to be average in almost every sense of the word, which is shocking given the talented individuals who worked on this picture.
Agree or disagree with the stance of the filmmakers, I liked what they set out to do. Making a contentious film about a major figure in American history could have been very entertaining, although I always hope that filmmakers do their research and don’t leave me with a head full of misinformation. These ‘feather ruffling’ aspects of the film played out quite well, but the rest of the film seemed like filler. The real focus of the story is whether or not Hoover was gay, which is definitely entertaining, but nothing else really happens. There are major events going on in the background of the story, but they play second fiddle to J. Edgar’s personal life, which is dull, dull, dull.
Since the storyline takes place during two different time-frames, thirty to forty years apart, Leonardo DiCaprio, Armie Hammer, and Naomi Watts had to be transformed into much older looking people. This is at the same time, the best and the worst part of the film. The best, because the make-up was incredible and the artists may deserve an academy award for their work. However, the casting decisions boggle the mind! DiCaprio is arguably one of the best actors in the business, and Hammer may be new on the scene, but is certainly no slouch, however, I would argue that they do not yet have the tools to play very old men. Why casting thought it would be a good idea to transform these actors into seventy year old men and watch them stumble around the screen is beyond me. At times I thought I was watching an SNL skit. Actors are not perfectly malleable tools that can play any role. To ask young men to play very old men is very often asking too much. It would be like asking Gary Oldman to play one of the Harry Potter children…on second thought, Oldman could probably do that. But not everyone is Gary Oldman! I feel like the deck was stacked against the actors in this one, and for that reason I have a big problem criticizing their performances.
Finally, I was incredibly confused by one aspect of the film. On multiple occasions, Hoover looks out of his window at the presidential parade. During these occasions he seems to be deep in thought and considering to plot the eventual assassination of JFK. Was this really the intention of the filmmakers? This is conspiracy theory material, which is fine, but it is not even central to the content of the film. As I have said, I do not know a lot about American history, but extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, which we did not get one shred of in the film regarding JFK’s assassination. So why include it? To ruffle more feathers?
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If they haven’t already, I think that anyone actually upset by the content of this film should look up the Streisand effect. After some inevitable and incomprehensible academy award nods (save for the make-up, which is deserved), I am betting that J. Edgar will fade away into obscurity. For those readers who enjoyed the film, you may want to check out some of the features playing at your local park, Feeding Bread to Birds, and Watch Grass Grow, they pack about the same amount of punch as J. Edgar, while being substantially cheaper and properly cast. That is, the park won’t try to disguise dashing ducks as geriatric geese.