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7/10 Greetings again from the darkness. The best place to start with this one is by saying what it isn't. It is not a documentary. It is not a very detailed history lesson. It is not the best biography of the man. It is not a behind-the-scenes of the FBI. What it is ... another piece of quality filmmaking from Clint Eastwood. It's an overview of J. Edgar Hoover and his nearly 50 years of civil service under 8 U.S. Presidents.4 years ago
The screenplay is from Dustin Lance Black, who also wrote the script for Milk, based on the story of Harvey Milk (played by Sean Penn). Clearly, Eastwood and Black had no interest in setting forth an historical drama that couldn't possibly be told within a two hour film structure. No, this is more of a fat-free character study that hits only a few of the highlights from an enigmatic man's fascinating career. With so few available details about Hoover's personal life, some speculation is required ... but Eastwood walks a tightrope so as to make neither a statement nor mockery.
Therein lies the only problem with the film. While hypnotic to watch, we are left with an empty feeling when it's over. How can that be? This man built the foundation of the FBI. He instigated the fingerprint system. He armed the secret police. His agency tracked down notorious gangsters. He led an anti-communist movement. He was in the middle of the investigation for the Lindbergh baby kidnapping. He supposedly kept secret files on most politicians and celebrities. He viewed the security of Americans as his responsibility. He was smack dab in the middle of almost 50 years of American history ... all while being a power-hungry, paranoid mama's boy who may have been, in her words, a daffodil.
An elderly Hoover's own words tell his story as he dictates his memoirs. We are told that his memories of these stories are blurred and he takes a few liberties to say the least. He longed to be the comic book hero like his own G-Men. He longed to be recognized for his contributions, even to the point of desiring a level of celebrity. In his mind, he was the face of national security and the hero cuffing many outlaws. In reality, he was also the black-mailing schemer who so frightened Presidents with his secret files, that all 8 of them backed off firing him. He could be viewed as the ultimate survivor in a town where few careers last so long and cross party lines.
The film picks up in 1919 when Hoover is a youngster making a name for himself as an all-work, no play type. That reputation stuck with him until the end. When he was first promoted, he hired Helen Gandy (Naomi Watts)to be his secretary. In one of the most remarkable hires of all time, she sticks with him until his death in 1972. Staunchly loyal to Hoover and totally dedicated to her job, Ms. Gandy helped Hoover with decisions and processes throughout. The other member of his inner circle was Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer). Tolson was Hoover's right-hand man at the bureau, his trusted adviser, his daily lunch partner, and speculation never ceased on their personal ties.
Judi Dench plays Annie Hoover, J Edgar's controlling mother, who he lived with until her death. She was also his adviser, supporter and probably a factor in his stunted social skills. We also get glimpses of how he dealt with Robert Kennedy (Jeffrey Donovan) and his overall lack of respect for John Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Richard Nixon. The Lindbergh case plays a key role because Hoover used it to gain more power for his bureau and increase funding for weapons, forensic labs and resources.
As for Leonardo DiCaprio, it's difficult to explain just how outstanding his performance is. It could have been a caricature, but instead he affords Hoover the respect his place in history demands. The 50 years of aging through make-up can be startling, especially since the time lines are mixed up throughout. His speech pattern mimics Hoover's, as does the growing waist line. There are some Citizen Kane elements at work in how the story is told and how it's filmed, but Eastwood wouldn't shy away from such comparisons.
If you want real details on Hoover, there are some very in-depth biographies out there. The number of documentaries and history books for this era are limitless. What Eastwood delivers here is an introduction to J Edgar Hoover. It is interesting enough to watch, and Leonardo's performance is a must-see, but the film lacks the depth warranted by the full story.
10/10 Why are there are these horrible reviews? I just saw this movie yesterday and it was utterly fantastic. I'm not the only one that thinks so. The theater was packed with people, mainly from adult to elderly but it was packed non the less. Everyone was clapping at the end of the movie.4 years ago
"J. Edger" tells the story of how the man J. Edger Hoover came to power, and goes into his personal life. Clint Eastwood did a wonderful job at bring this amazing story to life, and his so score was beautiful too. Leonardo DiCabrio was unbelievable. I couldn't believe how fantastic he was. It was one of the best performances I personally have ever seen. If he dose not win an Oscar for this, it would be just terrible. Everyone else was great too, everyone. And guess what people, the makeup was FANTASTIC!
Why people are bashing this movie so much is beyond me. It's not for everyone I'll admit. It's for people with a brain who want to see a piece of art instead of some stupid film like the Immortals.
7/10 In Clint Eastwood's latest biopic J. Edgar, we delve into the personal life of one of the most powerful and enigmatic figures of the 20th century. We are shown pieces of a man who was scared, confused, and extremely intelligent. He knew how to cater to the media, but his personal life was shrouded in secrecy. It could be argued that J. Edgar himself wasn't quite sure of who he was.4 years ago
Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Hoover. We see him evolve from a young upstart in the US Justice Department to the head of the FBI. DiCaprio portrays a man of man faults, though not entirely through his own doing. He overcame a speech impediment, grew up virtually without a father, and had difficulty expressing himself socially and sexually. Through DiCaprio's performance, we see just that, a man with a head on his shoulders, only confiding in those few people he trusted.
In his inner circle was Helen Gandy (Naoimi Watts), his personal secretary and keeper of Hoover's private files. Her commitment to Hoover knew no bounds. His right hand man, Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer), was, on paper, not the right person to become Hoover's 2nd in command, but Hoover saw something in Tolson that made him feel comfortable. From what we see on film, Tolson was more than a friend, more than a partner. He had no title for Hoover. He was invaluable.
The center of Hoover's world, however, was his mother Annie (Judi Dench). A stern yet loving woman, she knew what Hoover needed to be successful. Her approval meant so much to him, and the thought of letting her down was unfathomable. That would wreak havoc on his private life throughout his life.
Hoover's appointment as head of the FBI would last for nearly half a decade. In that time he saw our country through several wars, the "red scare," gangsters, and a presidential assassination. To compile his ever major decision would make for a great documentary series, but to compress it all into a movie under 2 1/2 hours, Eastwood utilizes recent Oscar winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black (Milk) to pen the script. What Black does is paint a picture of Hoover not as the head of the FBI, but as a man whose image was so out of whack that he himself had trouble distinguishing fact from fiction.
The film constructed in a way that we are told the story of Hoover's life through Hoover's own words, not from a general point of view. What makes this so effective is that we aren't sure of how certain events actually transpired, making the story, and in effect history, somewhat clouded, much like the image of Hoover himself.
This image of Hoover has been dissected and speculated for years. Was he a homosexual? What secrets did he take to the grave? Was he involved in any conspiracies? These questions are touched upon, but never fully answered. What we are left with is a portrait of a man left unfinished, much like the painting of Washington we see several times throughout the film. Like the painting, Hoover is a man incomplete. That painting is a reminder to him that even though he is incomplete he can still make a difference.
Some of the strengths of the film are also its weaknesses. The story itself if fascinating, but it tends to drag on. It reminded me of The Good Shepherd. A really good story with great characters based on true events, just nothing extraordinary. The acting too is well done but, for me at least, I had a hard time not seeing Leonardo DiCaprio as Hoover, especially with the makeup. Part of it, especially with DiCaprio, is his voice. He has such a unique way of speaking and he has trouble disguising it. His character also reminded me of his performance in The Aviator.
The acting on the whole, especially Hammer and Dench (I expect nods for both and DiCaprio as well), is well above average. Eastwood always manages to extract prime performances from his actors, including when he is acting. Eastwood also continues his work behind the scenes by composing the score, his seventh feature length scoring composition. Like his other composition, there's a heavy, moody, jazzy undertone. He doesn't overpower us with large orchestral compositions. Instead he utilizes strings, piano, and a few horns to accent the images.
Great but not without its flaws
8/10 Just got back from a screening in Vancouver~ Thanks to Clint Eastwood, it was almost free (only one dollar per ticket) I will try to keep my review spoiler-free~4 years ago
Personally, I thought it was a great film. Not exceptional in anyway, but still great. The tone reminds me a bit of Changeling. Makes sense since the stories are from the same period. I have to say, with Eastwood, Leonardo DiCaprio and Dustin Lance Black all on board, I was kind of expecting something a bit more than this.
I thought the weakest link was the script. It was interesting, but flawed. Also, the story was not very intriguing. Having watched Milk (also written by Black) and really liked how the story unfolded, I was expecting a great story about how J. Edgar Hoover rose to power and how he gradually transformed into the monster he became in the end. But instead, the story was told by shifting back and forth in time countless times, which at some point made me feel emotionally detached from the story and the characters. The bad bad makeup (I guess we can all agree on that~) was also very distracting. The elderly characters looked like wax figures to me.
That said, I really LOVED Eastwood's score. It was moving and really fit the mood of the film. His direction and camera-work were masterful as always. Leo was very convincing as J. Edgar, although I keep on seeing bits and pieces of Howard Hughes in his performance. Judi Dench and Naomi Watts were both great, however the same thing can not be said about Armie Hammer. I thought he was much better in The Social Network. There were a few good moments between him and Leo, but his performance as the elderly Clyde Tolson was darn right awful. I blame the horrible makeup.
As for the Oscars, this film will get a few nominations, but I doubt that it would become a strong contender. Though Leo's performance was not without its flaws, I thought it was more than enough to secure his leading actor nomination. Nods for best art direction, best cinematography and best score are also quite possible.
This film had the potential to become a masterpiece, but fell short of my expectations mainly due to the uneven script. While far from being one of his best, it is nevertheless a welcome addition to Eastwood's portfolio.
I never imagined I would see a Clint Eastwood film where I would look at my watch before the first hour was even up, but alas the day has come
5/10 It can happen to the best of us. Spielberg, Scorsese, Hitchcock, and even Clint Eastwood himself are capable of making an instantly-dismissible picture. Sometimes, it seems, a director will find himself in a project without much of a passion for it and looking at the final product, it's kind of hard to see his signature on the screen. That is the case with Mr. Eastwood's biopic on the life of J. Edgar Hoover. The movie, "J. Edgar", is everything I did not expect from Mr. Eastwood considering the deep, thought-provocative and artistic power of his last movie "Hereafter" as well as the many films that he made beforehand. Slow, pretentious, and middling.4 years ago
Many actors have played the infamous FBI founder over the years (once by Hoover himself, in the 1959 James Stewart movie "The FBI Story"). This time, the role goes to Leonardo DiCaprio. Unfortunately, it seems, his feelings about the movie seemed to be identical to Mr. Eastwood's, as he merely ham-acts throughout the entirety of the movie. The only thing differentiating his performance from scene-to-scene depends on how much phony make-up has been slapped on his face. It's sort of like a "Citizen Kane" portrait of a real-life figure, starting around the time of the man's death and whisking back and forth between the past and the present. Except whereas that great Orson Welles film from seventy years ago did it with precision and aesthetic greatness, the narrative of "J. Edgar" takes such vast leaps that it frequently falls flat on its face.
The screenplay was written by Dustin Lance Black, who won the Oscar for Best Screenplay for "Milk." Once again, he more or less writes this story more as a vessel for a homosexual romance and rights message. And it is here that he strikes his intended gold. Hoover's lover, his right-hand man Clyde Tolson, is played with immense passion by Armie Hammer. And it is the scenes between Mr. Hammer and Mr. DiCaprio that work. A particularly great scene involves the two secret lovers sharing a dinner table with some flirtatious Hollywood starlets and nervously trying to shake off the ladies' sexual advances without giving themselves away. Also fascinating and frightful is a confrontation about homosexuality between Mr. DiCaprio and Judi Dench as Hoover's mother.
So it is in this soulful subplot that Mr. Black's screenplay works, but when he tries to form a narrative arc about the lifetime of J. Edgar Hoover and bounce across decades in a coherent manner, it starts to struggle. Furthermore, apart from the love subplot, there is no chemistry between the characters. Naomi Watts, as Hoover's secretary, is given such insignificant things to do that she may as well have been an extra.
Earlier I mentioned that a passionless project even by a great director, will appear to lose its creators' signature and that is no more evident than in here. Mr. Eastwood's directing, though hardly bad, is rather dull with too many long shots and ponderous slow zooms. And while Leonardo DiCaprio was an inspired choice to play J. Edgar Hoover, he does it almost playfully, without much soul or conviction. Most embarrassing of all is the forced accent with which he enunciates the dialogue. Capped with some truly horrific make-up, when playing the elderly Hoover, the actor appears to be giving a comic stand-up performance at a nightclub. Reputedly, Mr. DiCaprio spent five hours every morning having the prosthetics applied to his face when playing the older version of the character. All I can say is that they should have spent at least six, for the make-up looks like exactly what it is. And the stuff put on Mr. Hammer for his old-guy moments makes him look like he belongs in a 30s Universal horror film.
Just as frightful as the makeup is the hack-job cinematography by Tom Stern. Yes, the same Tom Stern who has lit beautiful images for many of Clint Eastwood's earlier films, including "Changeling" for which he deservedly earned an Academy Award nomination. Mr. Stern's specialty seems to be in low-key lighting. Last year, he did a fabulous job catching the mood of "Hereafter" with clever use of shadows and silhouetting lights. But here, he goes overboard. The shadows in "J. Edgar" are so amateurish and monstrous that (I kid you not) the actors sometime disappear in them. If there is a symbolic purpose behind this, I cannot think of it. And other times, the lights are too soft. Close-ups of characters make them appear to be covered with flour and worst of all is when the camera tracks into a dark room and auto-adjusts to the new light...much like a home-video camera.
I never imagined I would see a Clint Eastwood film where I would look at my watch impatiently before the first hour was even up, but alas the day has come. "J. Edgar" is a dimwitted, passionless project that brings almost nothing to our previous knowledge about the formation of the FBI and the men who made it all possible. Only a couple of sharp, provocative moments from Dustin Lance Black's screenplay really stand out. Now Clint Eastwood has made five or six masterpieces during his forty-year career as a director and about twice as many great films, so despite my disappointment, I am prepared to allow this one to fade from my memory.
Not that that would be very hard. If J. Edgar Hoover had a file cabinet labeled 'Instantly Forgettable,' that is where this film would have gone.