There are two main storylines plaited through J. Edgar, Clint Eastwood’s 32nd body of work . The first is a by the numbers, rise to power tale of J. Edgar Hoover (Leonardo DiCaprio) powerfully rising through the ranks of the FBI. The second sees the powerfully risen J. Edgar Hoover ghostwriting his rising of power whilst simultaneously trying to stop someone rising to power in American politics. During the 137 minute running time, neither amounts to anything more solid than cappuccino fluff, wrapped in pastry.
So, where does it all go wrong? Pretty much everywhere to be frank. It’s like a buffet of poor decisions and ill-judged moments, washed down with a glass of Châteauneuf-du-Poop.
Screenwriter, Dustin Lance Black, gave us 2008’s Milk, which not only reeked of Walk Hard dialogue (‘It’s more than an issue. This is our life we’re fighting for.’), but also turned the assassination of one of the key spokespersons for gay rights into nothing more than a hideously melodramatic affair. With J. Edgar, his tropes are still there for all to see. The dialogue clunks along with all the panache of a Twilight fan fiction (‘All the admiration in the world can’t fill the spot where love goes.’) and he deals with key moments of Hoover’s life with the delicacy of a steamroller. We’re not going to enter the debate of whether Hoover was a transvestite or not, but we imagine if he was, it wouldn’t have happened in the way it fell out of Black’s head (Hello mummy issues!).
Eastwood’s direction fails to add anything to the limp script and his control over everything makes it feel like a 6th form performance or TV drama. In fact, if this were on ITV2 during a rainy Sunday afternoon and you’d finished descaling the teapot, then you may find yourself watching it. And like Heartbeat and Doc Martin, you wouldn’t come running into the office on Monday morning telling everyone to watch it. You’d probably fail to even acknowledge its presence. The direction really does have the bite and taste of a diluted glass of milk.
We would like to say that at least the actors step up to the plate with some sense of talent, but, quite frankly, the casting is way off. Hamster faced man-child, Leonardo DiCaprio utterly fails to come even close to being believable. Adopting a Jack Webb tone of voice, DiCaprio goosesteps through the Bureau like a child demanding a glass of cola before bed rather than a forefather of criminal investigation.
When you put together a biopic on Hoover, the subject of his sexuality is going to crop up and so it falls to Armie Hammer to play Hoover’s protegé and possible lover, Clyde Tolson. Hammer comes off a bit better in this regard and at least attempts to add some weight to his performance. In fact, his scenes with DiCaprio are probably some of the best parts of the film, but really, that’s not saying much. Constantly flipping between ‘are they or aren’t they?’, the film doesn’t really make a stand until two-thirds in by which point, DiCaprio’s pouting will have poisoned your mind so much that you’ll be screaming at Tolson to run for the hills.
As we’re covering pretty much a large part of Hoover’s life, this means we have to endure old man make up. Every time we return to OAP Hoover and Tolson, it’s almost laughable. Shaking like a dog is humping your leg is not ‘acting’ old. Returning to our 6th form performance comparison, they may as well have thrown flour in DiCaprio’s hair and had him say ‘ooh, I’m 62 you know’. With this and Prometheus, there appears to be an alarming trend to use prosthetics on the young rather than use those other things… You know… They look like young people, but they’re wrinkly… That’s right, old people.
J. Edgar is a painful, horrible fart of a movie. Aside from looking at our watches, we couldn’t help thinking about James Ellroy’s fantastic Underworld USA Trilogy and how those three books say a damn sight more than this ever will. If anyone disagrees, just remember, we have files on you.