Thursday, November 24, 2011
After a long break, I finally went and saw a movie. A group of co-workers planned an outing to see J. Edgar, the new movie directed and produced by Oscar-winner Clint Eastwood (Unforgiven, Million Dollar Baby, Mystic River) starring Leonardo Dicaprio, Naomi Watts, Judi Dench and Armie Hammer. The film is a biography about the life of J. Edgar Hoover, the longtime director of the Federal Bureau of Investigations, and was written by openly gay Oscar-winner Dustin Lance Black (Milk).
The movie has had a mixed reception by critics (rated 40% on rottentomatoes.com) and has been excoriated by some LGBT reviewers. I don't disagree with the disappointed reviews but I do disagree with the intensity of the vitriol that is being heaped on the film.
At its core, J. Edgar is a film about the 50-year-old relationship between two men, J. Edgar Hoover (played by Dicaprio) and Clyde Tolson (played by Hammer), one of whom happened to be the most powerful man in the United States. Black's screenplay jumps haphazardly between different decades, covering the major events in Hoover's (and thus the FBI's) career. The primary event in Hoover's career was his investigation of the so-called Crime of the Century, the kidnapping (and murder) of Charles Lindbergh's infant son. Hoover was obsessed with solving the crime and the movie does a good job of depicting his support and encouragement of forensic science.
Hoover also had some curious relationships with the two most important women in his life, his mother, Anne Marie Hoover (played with brio by Dame Judi Dench), and his longtime secretary and personal assistant Helen Gandy (a thankless role played by Oscar nominee Naomi Watts). There's an incredibly chilling scene where Judi Dench makes it crystal clear that she has no interest in seeing her longtime bachelor of a son ever come out of the closet. Another enlightening scene is between a very young Hoover and Gandy have just began dating and Hoover asks her to marry him. She must realize that Hoover really has no interest in a conjugal relationship with a woman and instead she is interested in having a more enduring (professional) relationship, as his executive secretary.
The performances are the best part of the film, Dench is particularly good, as is Dicaprio. Hammer is easy on the eyes and the depiction of these two single men spending decades together at the #1 and #2 positions at the internal national police force despite a parade of more than half a dozen Presidents is quite compelling.
However, there are some bad characteristic of the film and these flaws most definitely outweigh its strong points. The first that comes to mind is the make-up. Dicaprio looks quite amazing physically as Hoover, but as the film jumps decades into the future they are forced to slather huge amounts of make-up on Hammer and Dicaprio, making Hammer particularly look like some kind of zombie. It doesn't help matters when Tolson has a stroke and spends the last half-hour of the film shaking a leaf. Hammer does a decent portrayal of the physical effects and Hoover's self-centeredness and paranoia are revealed when he starts to turn on the man who has shared his life with him. Even though the relationship lasts 50 years it is completely chaste since neither party really ever acknowledges the love they have for each other, except for one badly written and overly histrionic scene in which the two get physical (violently and romantically). I can understand that some reviewers felt these aspects of the film make it a disappointing exercise, but I would argue that it is still worth seeing, but go in knowing that it is not a masterpiece, but simply an affecting film.
Title: J. Edgar.
Director: Clint Eastwood.
Running Time: 2 hours, 17 minutes.
MPAA Rating: Rated R for brief strong language.
Release Date: November 11, 2011.
Viewing Date: November 15, 2011.
Overall Grade: (3.167/4.0).