Title: J. Edgar
Director: Clint Eastwood
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Armie Hammer, Naomi Watts, Judi Dench
Release Date: 20th January
Although J. Edgar is an interesting portrait of the titular controversial director of the FBI, it does seem that this is a Leonard DiCaprio film we have seen before in The Aviator; a biopic of an eccentric and ambitious man who rises to power and accumulates wealth only to be ultimately driven to paranoia by this wealth and power.
Have no doubts about it, DiCaprio’s incarnation of Hoover is excellent, even when buried under heaps of aging make-up, and it only becomes all too clear how strong a performance it is when you compare it to the minor cast. While DiCaprio’s performance is undoubtedly the centrepiece of the film and is certain to attract the attention of the Academy, it is just a little unfortunate that there isn’t an equally strong narrative to provide a good enough support structure for him. The narrative conceit is Hoover dictating his memoirs; a well-trodden device for a biopic, however, its most glaring problem is that while this film attempts to be comprehensive in its portrayal, it ends up being far too broad.
The film tracks Hoover’s fifty year career from his time as an ambitious young man in the Justice Department, the establishment of the FBI and his extensive career as director where he was innovative in his establishment of a federal investigative agency and the modernisation of criminal investigations with science. As well as all that it also squeezes in the two most intimate relationships in his life: the Oedipal relationship with his mother, played by Judi Dench (Casino Royale), and his chastised homosexual relationship with FBI colleague Clyde Tolson, played by Armie Hammer (The Social Network).
While the early scenes of the ambitious Hoover during his time in the Justice Department actually flow at a good pace, it is the latex and make-up heavy years of Hoover’s later life where the narrative becomes over-stretched and cannot seem to decide whether he is the hero or villain. It is amidst Hoover discrediting the Civil Rights Movement and having his heroic deeds in the film take a 180° turn that leaves you with a slightly empty image of Hoover come the film’s end, and one that does not command the respect and sympathy DiCaprio’s Howard Hughes commanded in The Aviator.
In a Nutshell: Despite DiCaprio’s excellent performance, everything else lets the star player down, leaving the character of J. Edgar Hoover possibly more enigmatic than before.