Sunday, November 6, 2011

J. Edgar

After dismissing a top SCLC member before heading out to meet Attorney General Bobby Kennedy and blackmail him into securing a wiretap for the organization, FBI director J. Edgar Hoover begins to dictate his memoirs. Beginning as a fervent young federal agent who made his name during the Red Scare of 1919 and the Palmer Raids, Hoover's durable career would be one of intimidation and rule bending, but also one which strengthened and organized our national policing abilities making the country safer. He also held dark and unaccepted secrets that would have been as damaging as any of the information contained in his private files. "J. Edgar" is a continuation of the rich and powerful filmmaking that Clint Eastwood has made standard in his work. In an unlikely collaboration with Oscar winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black ("Milk"), the two arrive at a middle ground resulting in an extremely compelling film which handles the homosexual elements with restraint and nuance, while presenting a contemptible yet sympathetic view of one of the most controversial figures in 20th Century American history. Leonardo Dicaprio again delivers a riveting historical portrayal as a disappears in the role of Hoover through over half a century of his life. Armie Hammer, who had his breakthrough role(s) as the Winklevoss twins in last year's "The Social Network", is incredible here, especially in the aged scenes, as Clyde Tolson, the fashionable and shy companion of Hoover. I did feel the movie mishandled its female characters, first with the role of Hoover's mother played by Judi Dench. Dench is over the top and obvious as the domineering matriarch and the scenes feel life out of "The Aviator", another Leo biopic. The other female role is that of Hoover's secretary (Naomi Watts, excellent despite), whom he gave full trust and access to his private files. The relationship is never fully developed and we get very little time of Dicaprio and Watts interacting on screen. The rest of the movie including the scenes between Leo and Hammer, and the historical ones come off remarkably and are the result of great craftsmanship and wonderful acting. Even at 137 minutes, I thought the film felt short and would have liked to see a more encompassing picture (1935-1962 are omitted). Still this is engrossing picture of a contentious man and another wonder from the now 81 year old Eastwood.