J. Edgar Reviews
I think the issue here is that Edgar was a very interesting man and there is so much to look into and to show on a live screen that it would never work properly. I have always admired Eastwood's directing skills and i thought he did a decent job here too.
On a technical level , the film is really well shot and the sets are lavishly reconstituted.
This may not appeal to everyone, but personally i was glad to watch it.
A study on J Edgar Hoover, famed long-serving director of the FBI. Explores his drivers and motivations, and personal life. Told through flashbacks as he narrates his career for his biography, we see how he built the FBI from scratch, some of his higher-profile cases (eg the Lindbergh baby), his obsession with Communists and anyone else he deemed enemies of the US and his relationship with Clyde Tolson, Assistant Director of the FBI, closest confidant and more.
A good study on a controversial, divisive, almost mystical, figure in US history. Not entirely complimentary, it gives a stark, and balanced, look at a very powerful, shaping force figure in US history.
Great performance from Leonardo DiCaprio in the lead role. Good support from Armie Hammer and Naomi Watts.
Biopics are traditionally very conventional in formula, but J. Edgar is not. It is in fact so divorced from biopic formula that it attempts to be a legitimate narrative of other sorts, and that is a key problem. In attempting to balance the film's focus on its titular character and the history that he made, there is no balance between building plot and characters. J. Edgar ultimately resorts more to focusing on the story itself, but even then it fails to grasp what it seems to be talking about. The actual exploration of the titular character goes as far as touching upon the notion of his supposed homosexuality and his relationship with his mother while failing to delve into his psychology surrounding either.
From the moment the film begins until it ends, the entire experience is confusing because viewers are given minimal context before being thrown into a narrative about war between communism and democracy among other things. Attempting to figure out what was going on proved to be a real challenge because there are so many characters talking without the film conveying a fair understanding of just what they're actually talking about. This isn't helped by the constant jumps through time between past and present which jars the viewer with a poor plot structure. This seems to be for the sake of drawing parallels between the past and present of J. Edgar Hoover, but it is ultimately little more than a convoluted sentiment which causes the film to collapse under its own weight.
I had no idea who J. Edgar Hoover was prior to watching the film and hoped that it would answer my questions, but all I gather from the film is that he was both a man responsible for formulating many essential innovations in the Federal Bureau of Investigation and a closeted homosexual as well. But you can gather that from reading his life summary on Wikipedia, so I expected more from a 137 minute film directed by a patriot like Clint Eastwood. After the entire film, I still have no idea what a "Bolshevik" is no matter how many times J. Edgar Hoover talks about needing to protect the Americans from them. I'm guessing they're some kind of Russians, but the film shouldn't leave me guessing on a subject like that.
But as well as a lack of coherence, there is also minimal heart in the film. It fails to capture either the legacy of J. Edgar Hoover or a story which is genuinely all that entertaining.
The problem is that there is just not a lot to feel from the film because it is rarely atmospheric. When it intensifies focus on the alleged homosexual relationship the titular man shared with Clyde Tolson there is a sense of intensity, but in actually discussing what the man did for the world there is a lack of feeling that comes from it. For one thing, J. Edgar Hoover was notorious for his role in investigating the disappearance of Charles Augustus Lindbergh Jr.. The Lindbergh kidnapping was known by many to be "The Crime of the Century" while the pursuit of John Dillinger was similarly high profile material, yet J. Edgar is so desensitized from dealing with crime on a human level that it just uses the entire idea as a loose concept and not actual content. It is just another gimmick that the film points to as a distraction from the fact that it has no idea how to expand on it or structure it into the narrative sensibly.
In essence, J. Edgar has little to boast about in terms of narrative, leaving viewers with hopes of finding solace in the style of the feature. Remarkably enough, J. Edgar cannot even bring itself to light up a room for the benefit of viewers. The entire visual plane is darkened to give the film an older feeling, but it goes into territory too dark for its own good. The lighting in the film is clearly very poor since it goes beyond numbing the colours to a monochromatic feel and instead buries the entire experience beneath an abundance of shadow. The film effectively conveys a feeling of being old, but it most certainly does not evoke a feeling of any sort of competence. As much as the costumes and scenery evoke a feeling of nostalgia, the lighting very much blunts them by casting a repetitive series of blackness down the sights of viewers. This is all the more shameful because the costumes, props and scenery are all very nice yet buried heavily beneath an abundance of shadow.
A common criticism of J. Edgar is the quality of the makeup. After cross-examining the appearances of the actors with their real life characters, I conclude that I have no complaints in that department. The makeup is extensively detailed and makes it a challenge to decipher the cast members beneath them, further reinforcing the efforts of the acting in portraying the intended characters. This is particularly effective with Armie Hammer in the role of Clyde Tolson as there is no telling who the actor is behind the quality of the facial design. I have no complaints in the makeup department aside from the notion that perhaps some other actors could have used more of it to capture the appearance of their characters.
So as it has been established that the film offers little in a sense of style and the narrative doesn't make any sense, what does that leave J. Edgar with that is actually any good? A leading performance from Leonardo DiCaprio.
Predictably, Leonardo DiCaprio remains a powerhouse actor even in the face of such incoherent material around him which proves to at least make J. Edgar Hoover an interesting character on some level. He is so embalmed in the role inside and out that he is easily able to oscillate between the relentless determination of the man as the head of the FBI and the frail nature of him as a human being. Honestly, you could expect nothing less from him. You might when considering the quality of the material around him, but the fact that he transcends it with such ease is a reminder of just how talented the actor is. Leonardo DiCaprio easily conveys to audiences a belief that he is really in the world of the narrative by capturing the movements and manner of speaking that comes from any person living in the early age of the FBI without neglecting the specific style of the man he is capturing. What I learned from J. Edgar is that the man is a really difficult concept for the entire world to grasp, and so it is all the more impressive that Leonardo DiCaprio does such an effective job in capturing an impression of the man. Leonardo DiCario is a lone bright spot in the poorly lit J. Edgar, and the reminder of charisma justifies the viewing experience.
Armie Hammer also does a good job. Although the character of Clyde Tolson is reduced to being little more than the object of J. Edgard Hoover's affections in J. Edgar, it is during these scenes that the man hits the endeavour of his performance because he shows just how well he can intensify himself for a powerful chemistry with Leonardo DiCaprio. The two are a powerful duo, and even in the other scenes of the film he proves capable of maintaining a sophisticated edge in his manner of speaking and walking. Armie Hammer proves once again that he is a talented actor in a character-oriented drama.
The supporting efforts of Judi Dench and Naomi Watts are also a nice touch.
Jeffrey Donovan is of poor form in J. Edgar. As much as I liked Jeffrey Donovan in Burn Notice and in his prior collaboration with Clint Eastwood on Changeling (2008), in the role of a man as high-profile as Robert F. Kennedy, the lack of makeup on the actor and the slight change of voice tone does nothing to effectively convey the man that Robert F. Kennedy was or separate Jeffrey Donovan from his standard persona in countless roles. This effectively pays no favour to the actor or the character he portrays, and so his brief appearance in the film is of no believability and therefore drags down the experience momentarily with repetitive monotonous line delivery.
So Leonardo DiCaprio's powerhouse leading performance brings some life into J. Edgar Hoover, but Clint Eastwood's inability to give the material an appropriate structure, a sense of atmosphere or even proper lighting turns the experience into an extensive drag.