Clint Eastwood-directed J. Edgar focuses on a controversial and legendary American law man whose skewed ethics and morality make him believe that to preserve the law as he saw it, bending the existing law was perfectly acceptable. No, this is not a triumphant return to the Dirty Harry franchise (please please please Clint, never go there!), but a biopic of J. Edgar Hoover, founder of the FBI, and if rumour is to be believed – a closet homosexual who liked to dress up in women’s clothes.
This movie attracted an immense amount of interest when it was announced; the subject is very divisive in the American psyche, and when it was revealed that the part would be going to Leonardo Di Caprio eyebrows were raised. Although Leo is a fine actor and is shaping up to be the De Niro of his generation, Hoover lived to an old age and for all his talents Di Caprio is still very fresh faced -here lies the first real problem. The old age make up stinks. It completely undermines what is a very fine performance – so much so that when Hoover and his partner Tolson are shown as old men they resemble Stadler and Waldorf from the Muppets. This is such a shame and overshadows the work that comes before and after those scenes.
The acting throughout is of a very high standard, inevitably Di Caprio and Dame Judi Dench stand out, the latter as Hoover’s mother demonstrating her icy ruthless side. Naomi Watts is wasted in an underwritten role and therein lies the second problem. The script does not nail the aspects of the man that everyone wants to know about. The cross-dressing and homosexuality are hinted at but remain ambiguous throughout. It has been reduced to a bulk standard and straight-forward true life story that needed a bit more flair and panache than it received.
Overall, an interesting story, made very well but ultimately not as engaging as it should have been.
Watch this is if you liked: Oliver Stone’s Nixon (1995).
Titbit: In his last two films Eastwood has directed Dame Judi Dench and Sir Derek Jacobi. Maggie Smith and Ben Kingsley must be waiting for that phone to ring!