Duke & The Movies

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Written by: Sam Fragoso on November 10, 2011

November 10, 2011 | 23 comments | Featured, Old Format

J. Edgar

J. Edgar Hoover is a misinterpreted American hero. He was a complex individual who achieved a great deal. Unfortunately, underneath his successes, was a man filled with rage, jealousy, ambiguity, and resentment. For decades Hoover willingly obstructed good peoples basic liberties, all for the sake of personal power. In the end, he was left very little.

Director Clint Eastwood’s tragic retelling of Hoover’s life – spanning from his early 20s to his deathbed – is unquestionably one of the director’s worst cinematic endeavors.

J. Edgar is a woefully disappointing picture, plagued with didactic and convoluted storytelling, embarrassingly bad makeup work, and a stale script lacking many of the rich themes Eastwood has been lauded for in the past.

Starring Leonardo DiCaprio as J. Edgar Hoover, the film tracks nearly 50 years of his life. Written by Dustin Lance Black (who also penned the screenplay of Milk) J. Edgar is interwoven with three different timelines.

First as a child, secondly as an up and coming officer (who ultimately takes over the FBI), and lastly as an old man in his 70s, recounting his life through a memoir.

We learn Hoover is a very reclusive man. Throughout his lifetime we see only a few people who could be considered close to him. His mother, Annie (played by British actress Judi Dench), his secretary Helen Gandy (Naomi Watts), and his best friend Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer) – all of which have different, unique relationships with Hoover.

The latter of those three people, Clyde, is perhaps more than just a friend. Eastwood and Black firmly depict Hoover as homosexual, a long-debated rumor. The relationship between Hoover and Clyde is an interesting one, well, at least at first glance. Eastwood doesn’t give the insight necessary to make us care for them. This is especially evident in the films breaking point, where Clyde gets upset when Hoover mentions a possible Mrs. The argument turns into a physical match, and eventually, a scene of confused romance.

Hoover (right) and Tolson (left) emotionally fighting over a possible romance in Clint Eastwood's "J. Edgar"

Unfortunately, that scene speaks as a living testament to the pictures downfall: even in its most heated exchange, J. Edgar fails, time after time, to rouse genuine emotions.

Eastwood’s longwinded tale does delves into exciting events in American History. Including the capturing of John Dillinger and the deconstruction of the Bolshevik-Communist party. On the flipside, traumatic events such as the assassination of John F. Kennedy and the theft (and murder) of Charles Lindbergh’s young child also occur here. It’s quite amazing how much happened in Hoover’s 79-year lifespan and how often he was apart of it all.

However, the film does the man very little justice. The makeup is pitiful and thoroughly distracting. DiCaprio and Hammer just look downright ridiculous in the latter scenes – and as an affect make it impossible to take anything that transpires in those moments seriously.

While I admire Mr. Eastwood’s dedication to exploring new topics film after film, his conventional filmmaking that has garnered him a plethora of respect in the past is now wearing thin. If for not the grandstanding performances from everyone in the cast, J. Edgar would be entirely deplorable.

It’s a shame, really, that a man as fascinating as J. Edgar Hoover is reduced to a prolonged, cinematic snooze. Clint Eastwood merely plays hopscotch with his life – aimlessly bouncing around from topic to topic – and along the way forgetting purpose.

The films final affects to the viewer are ultimately as disheartening as Mr. Hoover’s life.

Rating: ★★☆☆

J. Edgar

J. Edgar (2011)

Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Armie Hammer, Naomi Watts

Director: Clint Eastwood

Writer: Dustin Lance Black

Runtime: 137 minutes

Genre: history, drama, crime

Trailer J. Edgar


There are 23 comments for this post.

  1. Rodney on November 10, 2011 12:04 pm

    Is that the poster they went with, the one at the top there? Looks like Leo’s having trouble pushing one out – if you know what I mean. What a terrible poster.

    Sounds like the film’s not much better. Guess I’ll be waiting for the cheap DVD rental to come my way in a year or so….

  2. Duke on November 10, 2011 12:10 pm

    It may be an affable affair on DVD … and there are multiple posters, but that’s the primary one, yes.

  3. Fogs on November 10, 2011 12:13 pm

    Ahhhhh, mannnn…

    I TRY not to read reviews now before I go, form my own opinions and do my own write up… But I saw your tweet and had to check it out, because you totally confirmed my worst suspicions.

    I don’t know why, but I could just feel it coming from trailer one.

    Nice review, I just wish the news was better.

  4. Duke on November 10, 2011 12:21 pm

    I wish the news was better too.

  5. Steven Flores on November 10, 2011 1:53 pm

    I like Clint Eastwood as a filmmaker and I thought about seeing it. Yet, after Gran Torino and Hereafter, I think I’ll wait for it on TV.

  6. Duke on November 10, 2011 1:55 pm

    I had multiple problems with both of those pictures – but both were, at the very least, interesting.

  7. Rachel on November 10, 2011 2:00 pm

    I knew it! As soon as I saw the trailer (after a 4 day Eastwood-athon, cringe) I knew this was going to be another overblown Oscar bait flick. Thank you for the confirmation. Great review, Sam!

  8. Duke on November 10, 2011 2:18 pm

    I’ll be surprised if the Oscars go for this.

    Thanks for stopping by Rachel.

  9. James Warf on November 10, 2011 2:52 pm

    Hey I notice you got advertising on the site now. Way cool. Does this mean you’ll be getting a car soon? Perhaps driving yourself to screenings? :P

  10. Duke on November 10, 2011 3:17 pm

    I apologize, but I don’t know who Mr. Warf is… ;)

  11. Scott Lawlor on November 11, 2011 12:56 am

    Ooh nasty. I am more interested in seeing this now just to see if it is as bad as you say.

    Great review my friend

  12. Duke on November 11, 2011 11:41 am

    It’s not terrible, just not all that good. Looking forward to your thoughts.

  13. Fogs on November 12, 2011 6:43 am

    You certainly weren’t wrong, Sam.

    If anything you soft sell the awfulness of it.

    I saw in the comments you say “I’d be surprised if the Oscars go for this”… and I would be too (shocked actually). But I think this was intended to be a big old bucket of Oscar bait, except they left it out in the sun too long and it spoiled.


  14. Duke on November 12, 2011 9:13 am

    I say the Oscars will likely not go for it – mainly because it’s coming out a little too soon and critics are not praising it by any measures. I suppose it all comes down to what the general audience has to say about it.

    Only time will tell…

  15. Jan Meyers on November 13, 2011 4:17 pm

    I’m really disappointed , I’ve been looking forward to seeing the film. I didn’t expect to have my mind changed about one of the more despicable men of his generation but had hoped the film might be an informing and entertaining account. Will probably see it anyway and let you know my opinion after that.

  16. Duke on November 13, 2011 5:00 pm

    Looking forward to your thoughts Grandma.

  17. Alex on November 13, 2011 5:18 pm

    Great review. I think you appreciated the film a little more than I did, but regardless, it was simply useless. Eastwood is one of my favorite directors, I really hope he gets his mojo back in the short years he has left.

  18. Duke on November 13, 2011 7:30 pm

    One can only hope Alex.

  19. NeverTooEarlyMP on November 19, 2011 6:21 pm

    I really loved this film, and am a little surprised that you didn’t like it as much. For me, it has many of the same cautionary lessons as The Ides Of March (which I remember you liked). I agree that Armie’s makeup looked pretty bad (although he was supposed to be old AND sick), but I thought they did a pretty good job with Leo’s, especially because they actually show minor changes over several decades, and not just a before and after version. And while I obviously can’t prove whether he was actually gay or not, it is kind of the nature of the closet that all we are left with are rumors. Anyway, for me Clint’s conventional story telling actually paid off some here. Sorry tht it didn’t work for you!

  20. Duke on November 19, 2011 7:11 pm

    I’m sorry too.

  21. Duke & The Movies :: Page not found on November 29, 2011 7:27 pm

    [...] J. Edgar [...]

  22. Duke & The Movies :: The Year 2011 In Reviews on January 22, 2012 6:41 pm

    [...] Hallows: Part 2 Hey, Boo Horrible Bosses Hugo I Am Number Four I Saw The Devil In Time Insidious J. Edgar Jack and Jill Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer Jumping the Broom Just Go With It Kill The [...]

  23. Franz Patrick on April 20, 2012 11:23 am

    I agree with you as a whole. But what I disagree with is your claim that the most heated exchange in the film failed to inspire genuine emotions. I was actually very moved during that scene. At least for me, the moment the two first laid eyes on each other, I immediately noticed there was something there. Hammer, I think, did an especially great job in flirting with just his eyes, even if he was just on the background. So when the confrontation arrived, I felt a lot was at stake even though a lot wasn’t said in terms of where Edgar and Clyde were in their relationship.

    I didn’t mention the make-up in my review. Like the others, I was also distracted at how bad it was at times, but at the same time it had bigger problems than the make-up. I think I read a review (maybe on Netflix?) that said Hammer’s make-up in the end when he was old and sickly made him look like Voldemort. That was genius.

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