'J. Edgar' Review By moviegeek

"Get rid of that suit."
  • Story
  • Acting
  • Directing
  • Visuals
J. Edgar is an intentionally misguided film. Critics have complained about the non-linear storytelling, the broad direction, and the lack of stance taken on the subject at hand. I believe Eastwood is showing real dedication and trust in his material by keeping from pushing the film in his own way. In preventing "J. Edgar" from turning into "C. Eastwood", the layers of emotion and conflict unfold gracefully. The drama isn't forced. The characters, fully realized by a talented cast, span decades with seamless poignancy.

This is a different Clint Eastwood film than what we're used to. His films up to this point have always been layered, but they built to a rousing emotional climax. The pieces would be constructed to resonate against what he, behind the camera, was eying. Here, he takes all of the pieces and lays them out as if he's storyboarding a final product. But he leaves it that way. Instead of manipulating the pieces into what some would argue could be a better film, he just steps back.

You won't see many directors do that, and for good reason. Intentionally displaying a lack of position on a subject isn't something one would want on a résumé. Eastwood doesn't treat this as "his" project. This is a character study that even he as the director is unfolding as the film progresses. This decision isn't entirely successful, mind you. There are developments handled roughly. Emotions and actions are built seemingly out of thin air, leaving that element hanging. Important aspects of Hoover's character like his sexuality and his relationship with his mother are handled beautifully on their own, but aren't really worked into the core of the film well enough.

A picture can be classified as a sum of its parts. On that basis, the film is excellent. J. Edgar isn't as sharp around the edges as one would hope, especially with such a cutting title character at the helm. But there is mastery in the storytelling. By jumping all around his life, the movie keeps itself from becoming a black-and-white, by-the-numbers biopic. There are a couple of times where the shifts in the timeline are superfluous as the film almost gets ahead of itself. But there is a real fluency amid the chaos that unfolds beautifully.

Leonardo DiCaprio seems too fit to play the part. He ran the risk of either overdoing his performance or not distinguishing it enough from his other roles. But his work here is mesmerizing. He's not allowed much physical work. Hoover was nicknamed "Speed" for the mass of words he could spew out in seconds. Therefore, DiCaprio is limited to relaying most every emotion and every nuance in his dialogue. Whether it's in the elision of certain letters in his speech or in the tremors and stutters in his voice, we get a sense of "who" he is playing, not "what" he is portraying.

His supporting cast is equally vigorous. The two main women highlight different sides of J. Edgar's character. Judi Dench plays Hoover's mother. She manages to easily convey a warm, soothing side that is just as quickly bit through with a fiery passion. Hoover is extremely loving towards his mother, but also achingly vulnerable. Naomi Watts stars as Helen Gandy, one of the few women that Hoover takes a liking to as a worker in his bureau. She is soon solely entrusted to his private files. It's fascinating to see how Edgar relies on her like no one else. Watts in underused in the film, however, tending to just follow the characters around. But she's convincing as her character battles between her loyalty to Hoover and her disapproval of some of his actions.

One performance in particular really stood out, though. Armie Hammer is Clyde Tolsen, the key character in Hoover's life. "I need you," he says to Tolsen. One of the only stable things in Hoover's life, Tolsen is able to reach out to him. Hammer's screen presence is spirited and resounding. DiCaprio really doesn't have a showy, Oscar role. Instead, this supporting newcomer gets the "baitier" part. But nothing in his character is forced or insincere. There is something genuine about the performance.

J. Edgar isn't quite as convincing visually. Outcries were heard across the Tomatometer against the makeup in the film. I was impressed for the most part, but Tolsen's aging is laughably bad. His plastic-y corpse look late in the film was distracting from the performance underneath. On another note, the lighting was nearly suffocating. There is always harsh light, making even the most tender of onscreen moments seem distant and off-putting.

Past the inconsistent makeup, the brilliant acting, the brash lighting, and every other detail in this film, there is a real keen sense of completion. The movie feels whole. It starts with the bookends of Hoover's life and works to peel away a central character. This is accomplished filmmaking. Now, is this just a compilation of pieces that could be worked into a possibly greater piece of manipulated filmmaking? Sure. But all the more impressive is how Eastwood's fingerprints can cover this film without smearing that which he is studying.

**NOTE: I haven't the slightest clue why this film was rated R. There are three vulgar words used (only one of which was an F-bomb). I could present a slew of profanity-laced comedies that were rated PG-13.**

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Comments (27)

  1. skywise

    @moviegeek LOL always a pleasure sir!

    3 years agoby @skywiseFlag

  2. moviegeek

    @skywise thanks man! The curse is gone :D

    3 years agoby @moviegeekFlag

  3. skywise

    oh and there ya go....14 thumbs up! Curse broken.

    3 years agoby @skywiseFlag

  4. skywise

    @moviegeek Fantastic review. Very thoughtful.

    3 years agoby @skywiseFlag

  5. moviegeek

    @mattbierwagen Good! I wrote this review because I knew the buzz was low and I felt it needed to be raised.

    @mattbierwagen Gracias.

    @thedude-abides Yea... DiCaprio won't have the momentum to win.

    @moviefreak97 That's what I was thinking. No sense in appealing when it's just extra money and no interest in that younger demographic.

    3 years agoby @moviegeekFlag

  6. moviegeek

    Oh. my. word. My reviews are cursed to never get more than 13 thumbs up! :P My past four have stuck RIGHT on 13.

    3 years agoby @moviegeekFlag

  7. Worth5Bucks

    @moviegeek thanks for reviewing this. it makes me look forward to it a bit more!

    3 years agoby @mattbierwagenFlag

  8. ROFLitschristian

    @moviegeek Muy bueno, senor. I really like the differents approach you took. Anyways, terrific review@

    3 years agoby @ROFLitschristianFlag

  9. MovieFreak97

    @moviegeek You're right it doesn't but it's the rules. Yep, it's ridiculous, but it's true. And you're right about the target audience, which is probably why they didn't try to appeal it for PG-13.

    3 years agoby @moviefreak97Flag

  10. thedude-abides

    @moviegeek Yeah, it seems to be between Clooney and DiCaprio from what everyone's saying. Too bad. I feel had this movie been better, DiCaprio might have won it running away. Anyway, great review.

    3 years agoby @thedude-abidesFlag

  11. moviegeek

    @corey I actually thought the first half was better than the last half.

    @summit10 Thank you. You should check it out.

    @moviefreak97 That doesn't make sense... they weren't used in a sexual sense. No big deal. It's not like anyone under 17 wanted to see the movie anyways :P

    @Georgia-DiPirro Thanks so much :D

    3 years agoby @moviegeekFlag

  12. Georgia DiPirro

    Wonderful Review -- very impressive @moviegeek Thank you for sharing

    3 years agoby @Georgia-DiPirroFlag

  13. MovieFreak97

    Nice review dude. And I actually told @kguy this yesterday, the MPAA guidelines give an automatic R rating to the words c*ck sucker or f*ck in a sexual sense. I know they used c*ck sucker, so there you go. Yes, it's very stupid :)

    3 years agoby @moviefreak97Flag

  14. Summit10

    a nice read moviegeek. I haven't seen this but will take a look at it once time permits. A fan of Clint and Leo, the critics might bash it it but we'll see what made it remarkable or not.

    3 years agoby @summit10Flag

  15. Corey W.

    Great review @moviegeek. I would have given this one a four if the first forty-five minutes or so were better.

    3 years agoby @coreyFlag

  16. moviegeek

    @ghostman Yupp. The future's quite bright for him!

    3 years agoby @moviegeekFlag

  17. Ghostman

    Don't forget about The Great Gatsby @moviegeek And, sinatra is one of my fave singers (surprising coming from an 18yr old) and i'm sure he'll do great in that!

    3 years agoby @ghostmanFlag

  18. moviegeek

    @ghostman He's got a lot of career left in him though. I hear he's going to play Frank Sinatra in a film called "Sinatra" (how original :P). That should stir up Oscar talk.

    3 years agoby @moviegeekFlag

  19. Ghostman

    @moviegeek Damn..I was hoping he would :( I mean look how long it took for Kate Winslet to win hers, she had to get naked for The Reader!

    3 years agoby @ghostmanFlag

  20. moviegeek

    @ghostman I doubt we'll see nods for Best screenplay or picture. Leo won't win the Oscar either. That's Clooney's to beat this year for The descendants, I hear.

    3 years agoby @moviegeekFlag

  21. Ghostman

    @moviegeek Like we said in the past: Oscar for Leo, and Oscar for best screenplay and picture possibly :)

    3 years agoby @ghostmanFlag

  22. ejk1

    @moviegeek great review, man.

    3 years agoby @ejk1Flag

  23. moviegeek

    @ghostman Well I didn't mention this in my review, but I actually loved the first half was more gripping and better than the end. The end seemed slower to me. The "story" was excellently handled.

    Am I mad at you, lol? :P Why would I be, ha.

    3 years agoby @moviegeekFlag

  24. Ghostman

    It's just that I've read @kguy's and @corey's review and they kinda said that the story was okay and a little slow at the start, and Leo's performance is really great; so i'll tell you this @moviegeek, I'm going to rent this when it comes out :) ur not mad at me are you?

    3 years agoby @ghostmanFlag

  25. moviegeek

    @ghostman no not at all!

    3 years agoby @moviegeekFlag

  26. Ghostman

    @moviegeek i take it the only great thing is DiCaprio's acting and the rest is kinda mediocre story? Great review pal!

    3 years agoby @ghostmanFlag