Review: 'J. Edgar'

(Two stars)

It seems like a winning formula: Unite an accomplished director (Clint Eastwood) with a gifted actor (Leonardo DiCaprio) to tell the story of a notable historical figure (J. Edgar Hoover). The recipe has been tested a dozen times over, with triumphs ("Milk"), disappointments ("Public Enemies") and middle-grounders ("Ali").

Sadly, Eastwood's drab and awkward "J. Edgar" steers closer to the disappointments category. The tedious 137-minute film features a strong cast and admirable production values such as makeup, costuming and set design. But the narrative leaps back and forth in time, fragmenting the pace and confusing the viewers. And the picture's muted gray tones coupled with monotonous piano tunes make "J. Edgar" this year's best flick for insomniacs. They'll doze right off.

DiCaprio is slightly miscast as Hoover, the first and longest-tenured director of the FBI. Eastwood endeavors to cover a lot of territory in Hoover's lengthy career, which spanned the better part of four decades. The audience follows as Hoover dictates his memoirs to a revolving door of writers, flashing back to the dawn of the FBI and some of his more high-profile challenges and achievements, such as the kidnapping and subsequent death of Charles Lindbergh Jr.

Hoover interacts with a wealth of various personalities as the FBI expands and progresses, though relationships with his longtime secretary Helen Gandy (Naomi Watts) and colleague Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer of "The Social Network") are granted the most screen time. Inferences about Hoover's sexuality abound as he and Tolson develop a lifelong friendship that borders (or more?) on the romantic. In one scene, Tolson goes into hysterics when Hoover reveals that he has been dating Hollywood actress Dorothy Lamour.

Kudos to the makeup department for impressively "aging up" DiCaprio, Hammer and Watts for certain scenes. An excellent supporting cast that includes Judi Dench, Josh Lucas and Dermot Mulroney adds more thespian prowess to the proceedings. DiCaprio delivers another solid performance, though a focus on nailing Hoover's unique speech patterns keep DiCaprio from going all-out. Hammer fares well in his role and is perfectly cast, but his skills seem novice in comparison to DiCaprio's.

Watching "J. Edgar" reminded this critic of sitting in a dimly lit history class after tossing back a tablespoon of NyQuil. The film is interesting but not compelling, about a protagonist who is neither likable nor despicable. It's a solid character study, but one better suited for the History Channel or an HBO special. There is a drab undertone to the whole affair that is the cinematic equivalent of an overcast day.

American-history enthusiasts may appreciate the film's context and Eastwood's attention to detail. Here's a suggestion: Go in the morning after a cup of coffee instead of the evening after a glass of wine.

Rated R for brief strong language. 2 hours, 17 minutes.

— Tyler Hanley

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Like this comment
Posted by William Hanley
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 14, 2011 at 1:33 pm

I enjoyed reading this. Having heard that it was not a great movie it was good to get the details. One would just assume DiCaprio and
Eastwood wouled make a great movie. I'll still be looking for another from the duo.

Like this comment
Posted by Gary
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 14, 2011 at 3:03 pm

Just curious, did the movie report, accurately, that Alger Hiss was a Soviet spy, and that J. Edgar Hoover played a major role in smoking him out?

Like this comment
Posted by Sharon
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 14, 2011 at 3:59 pm

The movie was completely panned by the WSJ this weekend.

Wooden performances poor directing and acting- rambling script--they said.

A real missed opportunity and an unfortunate big fail for Clint Eastwood

Like this comment
Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 14, 2011 at 5:09 pm

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

Breakback Mountain in D.C.
Hoover's alleged homosexuality perhaps deserved a mention. Instead it was made the centerpiece. Funny, I thought Hollywood approved of accepting homosexuals into the mainstream.

Like this comment
Posted by Ruby
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Nov 14, 2011 at 6:52 pm

Maybe it's the self-loathing, closeted, double-standard bearing homosexuals they detest, if indeed Walter's premise is correct.

Like this comment
Posted by Outside Observer
a resident of another community
on Nov 14, 2011 at 7:25 pm

I think it's simpler than that. Homosexuals are only acceptable if they are liberals. Same thing is true of Blacks, Women, etc, etc.

Like this comment
Posted by Sharon
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 14, 2011 at 7:46 pm

The simple fact is that it is a lousy movie

Some one should make a good movie of the history of the FBI

Martin Scorsese can do a much better film

This one is a dud

Like this comment
Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 15, 2011 at 9:38 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

Overt homosexuality back then would have ended Hoover's career. His secret homosexuality, if indeed it was, harmed no one. Even his Pearl Harbor files, as a private reminder, were not illegal. With today's tolerance, this picture was unnecessary.

Like this comment
Posted by Ruby
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Nov 15, 2011 at 9:59 am

"Homosexuals are only acceptable if they are liberals."

Wow, no filter there, eh? One wonders what Log Cabin Republicans think about such a crass, uniformed opinion.

Actually, Observer is probably correct in her little cloistered world. Have the Republicans let Fred Karger into any debates? Web Link Was it only liberals booing an American service member live at a GOP debate? Web Link

Nah, nice try, Observer. Take off your blinders and perhaps your powers of observation would improve significantly.

And for grins, go google "santorum".

Like this comment
Posted by Ruby
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Nov 15, 2011 at 10:01 am

strike "uniformed " replace with "uniNformed"

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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