REVIEW: J. Edgar

29 03 2012

Is the biopic headed the way of the sports movie?  “J. Edgar” seems to point towards a larger genre decline.  Clint Eastwood’s latest attempt at biography moves slower than molasses or “Invictus,” whichever better communicates the idea that this movie is boring and stuffy.  Everyone knows that he can do better, and with this following “Hereafter,” I have to wonder whether Eastwood should just retire after his next good film (if there is ever another good one).

Really, “J. Edgar” is more worthy to be analyzed as a Dustin Lance Black movie.  The Oscar-winning writer of “Milk” seems to be far more interested in Hoover, the rumored closet homosexual, than Hoover, the revolutionary founding director of the FBI.  There’s so much hinting when it comes to his sexuality and so much omission when it comes to his career that Black’s portrait really amounts to little more than a pencil sketch on café napkin.  If he intended to make Hoover a counterpoint to Harvey Milk, he should have just outright said it.

Eastwood claims “J. Edgar” is not a love story, but the tenor of the movie he intended to direct is directly clashing with Black’s script.  As a result, the film just feels like a half-hearted attempt at everything it sets out to do.  Black writes so many scenes with sexual overtones that so flagrantly obvious, but Eastwood tries to keep it as platonic as he possibly can without changing the lines.  What ultimately makes it onto the screen is just awkward and uncomfortable as everyone seems far too worried about slander or decorum to go for it.

Even Leonardo DiCaprio, normally forceful and commanding, seems to have fallen in the funk with Eastwood.  While the script surely gives him some meaty material as Hoover, he is nowhere near the heights of recent performances in “Shutter Island” and “Revolutionary Road.”  His big moments of grappling with his desires and toying with the idea of cross-dressing are almost laughable in their restraint.  He’s an actor best when he’s screaming Scorsese-style expletives, not dwelling in silence.  It only gets worse when DiCaprio ages, looking like a latex Mr. Potato Head and all but begging for an Oscar that he doesn’t deserve.

Armie Hammer, the actor who gave us the fantastic Winklevi of “The Social Network,” is the movie’s only real bright spot, and he’s not even deserving of much lauding.  As Clyde Tolson, Hoover’s number two at the Bureau and number one in the bedroom, he’s the only person who smiles or seems to have any semblance of realization.  Hammer stands out against the dull backdrop of Eastwood’s moseying meanderer of a movie, which can’t even give Judi Dench and Naomi Watts a decent scene to show off their Oscar-recognized talents.  At the moment, it appears that all “J. Edgar” can give moviegoers is a chance to see Hammer reach DiCaprio heights thanks to the exposure he got from this role.  C+

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