Monday, November 14, 2011

Movie review: J. Edgar

While no one will deny that Clint Eastwood is one of the most successful American actor/directors in cinema history, his latest effort, J. Edgar, proves that even the greats miss the target now and again.

It's difficult to pinpoint where the film fails, because it has so many good qualities.

The acting is good. Leo DiCaprio has proven many times that he's not just a pretty face and he does a fine job portraying America's most notorious G-man, J. Edgar Hoover. Judy Dench is perfect in the role of Annie Hoover, J. Edgar's domineering, nightmarish mother. Armie Hammer and Naomi Watts also perform admirably as Clyde Tolson and Helen Gandy, J. Edgar's two closest confidants. (And, in the case of Tolson, I do mean close.)  Jefferey Donovan's depiction of Robert Kennedy did seem a bit of a caricature, but it's a small part.  Not enough to bring the whole effort down.

The sets and the cinematography are well done.  Anything with the Eastwood name attached to it is bound to have plenty of funding for production, so you know he got the best.  Costumes, sets, lighting --all of it worked well. 

The problem, I believe, is that the film lacks identity.  A film about the longest serving Director of the FBI, about J. Edgar Hoover, the man, might go in any number of directions.  A political thriller involving Hoover and the Kennedys?  A documentary about Hoover's authoritarian legacy?  A psychological exploration of a man with some dark personal secrets?  A conjectural exploration of the contents of Hoover's infamous "secret files?" 

J. Edgar, alas, by attempting to be all of those, ends up being none of them. Mr. Eastwood overreached.  He tried to capture Hoover's entire career, which spanned 7 presidencies, over the course of a mere 137 minutes.  The film touches on all the elements but addresses none of them satisfactorily.

The film also suffers from a confusing chronology, leaping from present day to flashback and back again with no warning.  Characters are presented as young and vital in one scene, then as old and decrepit in the next.

The sad result is that J. Edgar  has no suspense, elicits little in the way of emotional investment, and all in all is just plain boring.  Bummer.

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