Clint Eastwood’s J.Edgar really threw me for a loop. I went in expecting a thriller along the lines of DeNiro’s The Good Shepherd but with more heft, because Hoover was such an enormous figure. Instead I got an epic love story between Hoover and his #2, Clyde Tolson.
Whereas a movie like Brokeback Mountain was able to craft an engaging film around their romance, one the filmmakers didn’t dance around, J. Edgar plods along at an excruciatingly slow pace with no payoff–almost. If not for Leonardo Dicaprio’s performance, this could be labeled a giant, flaming turkey. He really gave it his all, immersing himself in the character, but everyone around him looked to be walking through this like zombies (some literally). Especially Clint and Armie Hammer as Clyde Tolson.
Hammer, for the most part, was fine. But he was living a double life. During the day he was a dashing second fiddle at the FBI. At night he was J. Edgar’s dashing boy toy. I’m being a bit sarcastic, because J. Edgar never actually goes there. They pull all of their punches, whether it be his personal life or professional life. And this is what ultimately derails this movie. Dustin Lance Black, the screenwriter, and Clint Eastwood needed to go all in here. If this is a love story between these guys, show us. Give us the love story. If this is a story about the rise and rise of Hoover, give us the juicy details.
The film glosses over all of it and therefore comes up empty-handed. The directing lent itself to this approach, keeping us at arm’s length. All of the choices were made with an icy cold detachment, from the angles to the color palette. This only works if the script is exceedingly good and here, Black tries to cram fifty or so years, eight presidents, a few national crises and an epic love story in two-and-a-half hours. It just doesn’t work. Everything feels short-changed, making me think this could have worked much better as a mini-series.
As I said, Hammer was okay, right up until he actually needed to act. I believe he’s a good-looking, happy guy. That, to me, isn’t acting. When he is called upon to act, specifically the scene in their hotel room when a quarrel turns into a wrestling match turns into a kiss, he is completely exposed. There is no depth there. There is nothing but over the top emotion. And it all falls so painfully flat. It was cringe-inducing and somewhat laughable.
The film spans a large amount of years, which requires make-up and prosthetics. Hoover’s took a bit of getting used to, because at the end of the day this is Dicaprio under there. Armie Hammer’s on the other hand was a trainwreck. He looked about a hundred years old. And it was more like a zombie face–completely unmoving. This did not help his stiffness in any of the scenes featuring them as senior citizens. Particularly the dinner scene where Hoover touches him on the shoulder and it looks like he is having an orgasm in his pants. The whole thing was a bit weird.
Would I recommend this film? You guessed it–no. Dicaprio’s performance holds this thing together, but it isn’t worth the time. You can see him act in films that are actually good. Ultimately, you glean very little about the formation of the FBI from this film, and even less about the man himself.