Monday, December 19, 2011
The dithering biography begins with Hoover writing his memoirs, giving dictation and telling his stories to a cute young ghost writers (all male) all the while espousing the hype and grandeur of not only his celebrity, but of his brain child within the Bureau of Investigation, which would become the FBI. While notions and credits are giving his way, like the very nature of criminal investigation that Hoover spear-headed, and while accomplished as it is, there's an unlikable aura and sting of social awkwardness and confusion that overcomes Hoover. This is naturally and wonderfully projected by DiCaprio's performance, but stymied by the bullish and at-arms-length approach given by director and screenwriter. DiCaprio is game for the ugliness, pettiness, and megalomania associated with the icon, a man who kept everyone's secrets, and was hated by many, while keeping a stern fragility all to himself. The actor game fully goes for the awkward rumored homosexuality that battled the core of J. Edgar (Armie Hammer plays his male companion, his right arm name at the FBI, a sly and gentile man named Clyde Tolson.) The actor, however foolishly handled, runs with the silly mother-issued subplot (Judi Dench plays his proud mum), and the even-flimsier awkward romancer at the (Naomi Watts plays Helen Gandy, his future secretary and comrade; the two first meet on an awkward date.) The actor handles the roles with an aplomb that elevates the dreary picture, but also alienates from it as well...he's never judgmental of his J. Edgar, and seems to relish the challenge, all the while Eastwood and Black snooze on the pedigree, hoping that that is enough.
There's no passion, no fire, just an endless blithering of facts. Some should be quite compelling...J. Edgar proved a diverting pleasure in small doses in Michael Mann's recent John Dillinger film Public Enemies, however Eastwood seems to have little finesse or control over the film, nor the audience's waning attention spans. The distance, and non-committal approach, the lack of judgement, or simply letting the man off the hook grows tired and is frankly offensive. If not a complete white-washing of history, there's at least a grudge to be held that Eastwood's J. Edgar is only doomed with loneliness, never once a fight of consciousness, no matter how much DiCaprio tries to texture him. D+