Even wearing his mom’s clothes, Leo is still the man.
Leonardo DiCaprio stars in this riveting biopic as J. Edgar Hoover, the longtime FBI director as notorious for his overzealous methods of law enforcement as for the rumors regarding his cross-dressing and close relationship with protégé Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer).
J. Edgar Hoover is a dude I know about and it’s cool to finally see someone bring all of his crazy myths and legends up on film. The problem is that I wish it was as good of a film as I was imagining.
Director Clint Eastwood knows how to direct an emotional and compelling story, and he brings that to this film here with a great deal of moments where it shows J. Edgar not as a genius, but more of in an negative light, which is something you barely ever see in biopics. He’s a very sad dude that has terrible problems of paranoia, controlling everything, and trying to get all of the attention for himself. It’s hard to imagine a film that would basically talk ish on its subject but to be honest, this guy was a nut-case if a smart one at that.
Another element to this film that everybody was buzzing about before it came out was how apparently they would be talking about J. Edgar’s sexuality. The film does not exploit this by any means and I think handles it very delicately because it has a lot of the subtle touches that the film is trying to show and probably the best and more emotional scenes of this film actually have something to do with that gay-love angle. It’s finally great to see a big Hollywood film with a lot of talent in it, so able to actually show homosexuality without hating or making fun of it.
The problem with this film is that even though there are moments where this film clicks, other times it just plain and simply misses. One of the problems with the film is that it’s story is told through a very-old Hoover talking to numerous ghost writers, telling his side of the story to almost everything in his life, and this isn’t the most original idea but it’s not such a bad one either. However, sometimes they would go back-and-forth between the past and present time, which not only became annoying but also a major take-away from the film considering that the story jumps around so much, we can never fully get ourselves into one without going to the other one. I think if they told this film from Hoover being young and then watching him as time progresses, then the story would have been a lot better.
Another major problem is that I feel writer Dustin Lance Black emphasized so well on the whole homosexual-angle that when it came to telling the story of Hoover, he kind of lost his way by trying to go for too much without any connection. The film almost feels like a “Best of J. Edgar Hoover” series where we see all of the famous cases that he was apart of, all the controversies, and all the rumors, but we never actually know how the film wants us to feel about all of this and just exactly what this film is trying to say. I felt a little bit dragged on especially by how slow the story was and I think that it gets very jumbled with the actual story of Hoover, except for his fancy of women’s clothing.
My last problem with this film is the fact that it is about 2 hours and 17 minutes long which in some cases, isn’t so bad, but here I felt like I was dying a slow-and-somewhat painful death. The film has about 5 endings and I couldn’t help but look at my cell-phone every 30 seconds to check what time it is and to see when this film was actually going to end. I wouldn’t have had such a problem with the time-limit if the film didn’t lag along at a snail’s-pace and over-stayed its welcome by at least 20 minutes.
It’s a real shame though that this film couldn’t have done any better with critics, because it really could have done Leonardo DiCaprio‘s amazing performance as the man himself, some justice. At first, I didn’t know if I was going to be able to get past the thick-accent and the obvious make-up, but somehow DiCaprio makes this very troubled person, an almost larger-than-life persona who totally sinks into this character and after awhile I stopped seeing him as Jack Dawson and more of Hoover. He won’t win, but I’d like to see him at least get an Oscar nomination for this.
Armie Hammer is also exceptionally well as Clyde Tolson, Hoover’s right-hand man. Hammer has a great look to him where he always seems like he’s one step ahead of everybody he is with and throughout the whole film he uses that to his advantage. The scenes these two share together are great and you can really feel the chemistry and almost sexual tension between them both build-up as the film goes on. Their scenes together were the best mostly because they were believable, and handled in such a way that it didn’t seem shoehorned but more of natural when you have two guys who are with each other all the time, with some very dark secrets.
Oh, I lied, I had one more problem with this film as well. The make-up looks exceptionally well on Leo because he really seems like how old-man Hoover would look like, but Hammer is a different story. The guy’s make-up design looks more like a burn victim mixed with Eric Stoltz from ‘Mask’. It’s very weird to see and Hammer’s performance as older Tolson isn’t any better considering he does these random twitches and jitters that apparently every old man that Armie Hammer has ever seen does.
Consensus: The film has its fair share of flaws: it’s story goes from one place to another, it’s too long, and the make-up is exceptionally bad. However, J. Edgar features great performances from the cast, especially a compelling DiCaprio, as well as a certain love angle that feels right with this material and makes this seem more emotionally connected, when other times it seemed distant.
This movie was so lifeless and boring.
Hard to believe someone with such a pedigree (Eastwood) could take such interesting source material (Hoover) and get one of the best actors around (DiCaprio) and come out with such a dull mess.
It’s dull at certain times but it still had me watching, mainly because of DiCaprio’s performance as Hoover.
Great review! You have a really good length to this, but you seem to be very interested in the person behind the movie so that probably explains that. I find it’s a lot easier to write about some movies more than others.
It’s a lot easier to write about some movies, more than others, especially if you were a lot more interested in the film. Thanks Logan!
Awesome review. You’re right about the movie seeming like a “Best Of” collection overall, but then again, I suppose the unabridged version of Hoover’s escapades would be even painfully longer than this was, lol. I really liked the way his relationship with Tolson was treated too. Dustin Lance Black wrote ‘Milk’ as well, so he’s great at portraying gay relationships in the Hollywood world with no camp or needless humor, which is usually what you see writers use to cater to audience’s comfort levels. Nice job! 🙂
That’s true but the romance angle here is the best part of the whole film and it was handled with so much care that it just felt right. Thanks Nikki!
I just can’t see Leo as Hoover. I think Eastwood made a misstep with this one.
I think he did too because he could have easily did some real awards consideration but instead tries a little too hard with this one. Thanks Deb!
I disagree with Armie Hammer’s makeup. I think it was better than Hoover’s, and I was so immersed in Hammer’s totally underrated performance it captivated me.
Hammer is very good here when he was young, when he gets older, it’s pretty bad like he was trying way too hard.
I heard that Hammer’s make-up was really bad. I’m going to try and make it this weekend.
It’s an alright film so definitely check it out! But Hammer’s make-up was pretty horrendous.
wow, i’m not reading may overly positive reviews about this one. but i will say that Leo doesn’t look like hoover to me, based on the commercials I’ve seen.
He doesn’t but it’s all about the acting, and he does amazing with it. But then again, that’s what’s basically expected.
He looks more like him when they add the make-up and portray him as the older version of Hoover.
Disappointed that Eastwood seems to have dropped the ball with this one – and makeup fails aren’t going to give this film much staying power. How makeup can be so bad here, when it was so awesome in a much older film (Burton’s Planet of The Apes remake, for example) seems contradictory. Aren’t we supposed to be getting better at this stuff now?
We are supposed to be getting better but it’s just something that people can do very well, while others, like Eastwood, cannot. Thanks Rod!
I was disappointed that this movie wasn’t as good as I was expecting and they left far too much stuff out. I also had to point out the terrible job they did with Hammer’s make-up. I don’t know what they were trying to do there.
I guess they were trying to make him look like a burn victim/lion. Thanks Jaskee!
Nice job! You are right about the length; it was like going through a slow and painful death : )
It was way too slow and long. Thanks Catherine!
Great write-up. Seems like the blogosphere agrees on its general strengths and weaknesses. Thanks for the comment!
Seems like everyone basically agrees. Thanks Daniel!
Nice review. I was a little worried about the 2 hours plus, but I ended up loving this film and didn’t mind the length. And I definitely think that the love story is one of the strong points of the film. Oh, and I think that DiCaprio is guaranteed an Oscar nomination for this (and think he might even still have a chance to win), and I think Armie Hammer will get nominated too, as Eastwood has a pretty good track record with getting his actors nominated.
He does but this film sort of really dropped the ball. But I guess we’ll all have to see. Thanks man!
I totally agree with you about a lot in this movie! I thought Armie Hammer was a great Clyde Tolson. I also thought Leo DiCaprio was a good Hoover, aside from his distracting accent.
I think it’s interesting that you brought up how the film didn’t belittle or make fun of homosexuality. The irony of it is that they portrayed Judi Dench’s character, his mother, as disapproving of the possibility that he was attracted to men.
I think the one thing I really disagree about with you is Armie Hammer playing an older Cyde Tolson. I was completely impressed with his performance, and I didn’t think he looked like a burn victim, although his makeup might have been a bit much. I was actually really surprised at how much he sold it playing such an older character (that’s my opinion, though 🙂 )
One of my biggest problems with the movie (that you happened to mention) was the jumping back and forth too much in it. The moment I would start to get invested in a certain scene, it would be jump back to the past or present time. Too many jumps made the movie feel disjointed. I would agree that this is definitely a movie to rent and not to see in theaters.
Wooohooo! Thanks Kristin! Great points!
I’m pretty much in agreement that Tolson’s makeup was bad as an older man, and Leo’s was very, very good. The format of jumping back and forth was distracting. I wasn’t concerned about the length of the film going in, but because Hoover died nearly 40 years ago, and that he wasn’t fresh in people’s minds, the film did seem to stretch out longer than necessary.
One thing that I really appreciated was the fact that Eastwood brought home two or three facts – that many might not have know or realized 1) One that Hoover broke laws to catch criminals, radicals, and those he considered to be in opposition of the American that Hoover himself wanted, 2) That Hoover was tyrannical, dishonest, unfair in his professional life and muddled and confused in his personal life, and 3) that Hoover’s currency was secrets – it wasn’t about what his personal secrets were about, but rather how he used secrets to wield power and dictate how he wanted things all the way up to the highest levels in the American government.
While you easily make negative comments about the film (I did plenty of that in my own review) you have to agree the Eastwood hit a homerun about the secrets.
It was a good flick overall, I just wish in some cases there weren’t so many negatives. Thanks Mike!
Eastwood has always been overrated. The only film of his that I’ve ever truly thought worthy of the hype was “Unforgiven;” other than that, it’s been one mediocre yet inexplicably praised film after another. His pedigree precedes him.
His manliness must just intimidate critics into thinking he’s somehow better than he is. Well not me! I’ll take him any day of the week, assuming he’s in his current old, decrepit state, that is. And he isn’t packing heat. And he’s blindfolded and has both his arms tied behind his back. Then, it’s on!
I was disappointed that this film never made it to my area. I will probably catch it when it comes out on DVD. Too bad it didnt turn out better. The historic content behind Hoover and the FBI is very interesting.
Biopics always hold a fascination for an audience and J.Edgar was no exception..acting by DiCaprio was excellent as always.