J. Edgar is exposed in an unconventional light, but different doesn’t always mean good.
As the first FBI director, J. Edgar Hoover set a precendent for the bureau that is remembered fondly by Americans today. But what aren’t smashed in the AP History lesson plans are his suspected habit of hiding gay affairs and his taste for women’s clothing — this is where the story gets juicy.
That being said, it is distressing to consider the number of things that must have gone wrong to render this Clint Eastwood–directed feature of such a storied man into a strangely boring biopic.
Present in nearly every frame of the film, Leonardo DiCaprio gives an earnest performance that is tragically marred by a caricatured accent and black contact lenses that leave him with dead shark eyes — in fact, all of the actors are eventually reduced to clumsy displays of liver spots and lumpy flesh by awful aging makeup.
Shot entirely in shades of gray and blue, the film often evokes hokey historical reenactments (an evocation not helped by amateur–hour acting where an eye–rollingly obnoxious Bobby Kennedy impression does not feel entirely out of place).
As Hoover’s alleged gay lover, Armie Hammer smarmily hams it up. Their interactions seem forced at best, unintentionally hilarious at worst; what on paper would seem to be the film’s most serious moments instead play as utterly off–kilter and painfully cringe–inducing.
The nature of their relationship is left intentionally ambiguous, never finding its place in a film that does not seem to want to commit to either an emotional or historical account of a man whose life should have provided enough controversy for both. Rather, Eastwood’s depiction of Hoover remains decidedly ambivalent, alternating between derisive portrayals of paranoid delusion and a few Norman Bates–y scenes (featuring a terrifying Judi Dench) that are intended to garner sympathy.
Though it is unclear whether the blame lies with Dustin Lance Black’s uninspired screenplay or with Eastwood’s uneven direction, the narrative is not satisfyingly coherent, nor is it compellingly told. Weighed down by a clunky voiceover, the obvious subjects of veracity and unreliability are not brought to their full potential. What could have been intriguingly handled only serves to further emphasize the movie’s wasted potential.
Despite the mysterious history and film giants behind it, J. Edgar’s narrative dullness and tonal awkwardness leave behind only a bizarre misfire.
Directed by: Clint Eastwood
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Armie Hammer, Judi Dench
Don’t see if you liked: The Aviator (2004)
Rated R, 137 min.
J. Edgar opens at Ritz 5 on Friday, Nov. 11.