Director: Clint Eastwood
Writer: Dustin Lance Black
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Naomi Watts, Arnie Hammer, Josh Lucas, Dennis Quaid and Judi Dench
Studio: Warner Brothers
Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Hoover. We see him evolve from a young upstart in the US Justice Department to the head of the FBI. DiCaprio portrays a man of man faults, though not entirely through his own doing. He overcame a speech impediment, grew up virtually without a father, and had difficulty expressing himself socially and sexually. Through DiCaprio’s performance, we see just that, a man with a head on his shoulders, only confiding in those few people he trusted.
In his inner circle was Helen Gandy (Naoimi Watts), his personal secretary and keeper of Hoover’s private files. Her commitment to Hoover knew no bounds. His right hand man, Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer), was, on paper, not the right person to become Hoover’s 2nd in command, but Hoover saw something in Tolson that made him feel comfortable. From what we see on film, Tolson was more than a friend, more than a partner. He had no title for Hoover. He was invaluable.
The center of Hoover’s world, however, was his mother Annie (Judi Dench). A stern yet loving woman, she knew what Hoover needed to be successful. Her approval meant so much to him, and the thought of letting her down was unfathomable. That would wreak havoc on his private life throughout his life.
Mr. Eastwood’s directing, though hardly bad, is rather dull with too many long shots and ponderous slow zooms. And while Leonardo DiCaprio was an inspired choice to play J. Edgar Hoover, he does it almost playfully, without much soul or conviction. Most embarrassing of all is the forced accent with which he enunciates the dialogue. Capped with some truly horrific make-up, when playing the elderly Hoover, the actor appears to be giving a comic stand-up performance at a nightclub. Reputedly, Mr. DiCaprio spent five hours every morning having the prosthetics applied to his face when playing the older version of the character. All I can say is that they should have spent at least six, for the make-up looks like exactly what it is. And the stuff put on Mr. Hammer for his old-guy moments makes him look like he belongs in a 30s Universal horror film.
Just as frightful as the makeup is the hack-job cinematography by Tom Stern. Yes, the same Tom Stern who has lit beautiful images for many of Clint Eastwood’s earlier films, including “Changeling” for which he deservedly earned an Academy Award nomination. Mr. Stern’s specialty seems to be in low-key lighting. Last year, he did a fabulous job catching the mood of “Hereafter” with clever use of shadows and silhouetting lights. But here, he goes overboard. The shadows in “J. Edgar” are so amateurish and monstrous that the actors sometime disappear in them. It’s a shame that the whole movie couldn’t vanish in the same black hole.
RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW!