Saturday, November 26, 2011
Director Clint Eastwood does a wonderful job with his actors in an otherwise dull biography of J. Edgar Hoover. Leonardo DeCaprio is excellent as Hoover and equally good is Armie Hammer as Clyde Tolson. There were only two important women in Hoover's life, his mother, played here by Judi Dench and his faithful secretary, Helen Gandy, played by Naomi Watts. Both women give strong performances as well.
Despite the fact these four actors are at the top of their game, they are hampered by a claustophobic, dry script that bounces back and forth in time never settling down long enough for the audience to catch up. The screenplay by Dustin Lance Black draws on historical facts and rumors about Mr. Hoover but keeps a tight focus on his relationships with Mr. Tolson, his mother and to some extent, Ms. Gandy. While other characters come and go, they are just background and never fully developed. The film's makeup and lighting are both distracting. Only the three main character age and at times, their makeup looks like something bought in a Halloween store. The lighting keeps the film in blue and grey hues further dulling the story.
Mr. Hoover was a powerful and paranoid man throughout his long tenure in the FBI. Even Ms. Gandy who was his most trusted confident, probably didn't know everything about the man. The film crawls through his life with only the numerous flashbacks providing any spark, keeping the audience involved trying to guess the correct timeline. The story only hints at his relationships with the eight presidents he served.
The focus is on the unspoken love between Mr. Hoover and Mr. Tolson. Their relationship was deeper than the world knew but many probably suspected and that love is painfully and honestly portrayed by both Mr. DeCaprio and Mr. Hammer. Mr. Hoover's devotion to his mother is also a focal point and scenes between them are poignant yet, a little strange. Mr. Black's script is strongest when exploring the repressed homosexuality of the two men and even suggests the reason behind Mr. Hoover's rumored fondness for cross dressing.
While the acting is terrific, "J. Edgar" is an overall disappointment.