I’m fascinated by contradictions in people, and Hoovers public and private life were just that. The fact that he was keeping files on (and at times, threatening to expose) politicians and entertainers for doing the very same indiscretions he was doing makes him ripe for exploration.
Unfortunately, with Clint Eastwood‘s J. Edgar, this muddled film never really goes deeper than surface level.
Don’t get me wrong, I think you should see it. But only for one reason: Leonardo DiCaprio. He was, as usual, fantastic. His performance propels the mostly by the numbers film as he plays Hoover from his early 20’s to his ultimate death in 1972 at the age of 77.
I lay partial blame on screenwriter Dustin Lance Black. I hate to call out someone with the same name as me (we Lance’s have to stick together) but the script is so lacking in any true emotion that when one does finally happen, you want to laugh. The moment I’m talking about is when Armie Hammer‘s Clyde Tolson lashes out at Hoover for going out on a date with a woman when he thought the two had an ‘understanding’. It’s sudden and loud and the two fight and break things but you just want to chuckle because the scene is so ridiculous. The script seems to hit on the supposed greatest hits of Hoover’s life but never delves deeper into him as a closeted man who despises himself and tries to make the lives of others miserable.
The other half of the blame lies on Eastwood. His directing is fine but it also seems like it’s just a job for him. There’s no passion on the screen. He doesn’t get you to care for any of the characters and in fact, paints Hoover in a mostly good light. As my Dad told me, “He was an asshole.”
As the characters age, the actors begin to have makeup plied upon their faces. With DiCaprio’s makeup, it’s far less intrusive. He still knocks it out of the park, no matter what age he is in the scene but poor Armie Hammer fares less well. His makeup restricts him so much that you just feel sorry for him anytime he plays the elder Tolson.
I wanted to like J. Edgar so much… no, I wanted to love it but all I got was a boring history lesson.