SYNOPSIS: Leonardo DiCaprio (Inception, Blood Diamond) stars as J. Edgar Hoover, head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation for nearly 50 years. Hoover was feared, admired, reviled and revered, a man who could distort the truth as easily as he upheld it. His methods were at once ruthless and heroic, with the admiration of the world his most coveted prize. But behind closed doors, he held secrets that would have destroyed his image, his career and his life. Oscar Winner Clint Eastwood (Gran Torino, Million Dollar Baby, Unforgiven) directs an all-star cast including Naomi Watts (21 Grams), Armie Hammer (The Social Network) and Oscar Winner Judi Dench (Shakespeare in Love) as Hoover’s overprotective mother.
Most audience will probably be more interested to know about Leonardo DiCaprio’s latest supermodel girlfriends than a boring chubby man called J. Edgar. Unfortunately, the “Titanic” actor loves challenges so much that his pick of acting choices in recent years can be quite taxing on the casual audience.
Directed by the prolific senior citizen of Hollywood, Clint Eastwood (“Gran Torino”), J. Edgar Hoover (Leonardo DiCaprio) was the first director of FBI and this biographical drama written by Dustin Lance Black (“Milk”) traces his beginning from the Bureau of Investigation to being Head of the FBI and his subsequent achievements such as introducing criminal science investigation and pursuing high-profile robbery and kidnapping cases. However, it’s Hoover’s private life that is more intriguing as he is rumoured to be a cross-dresser, homosexual and his lover happens to be Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer from “Mirror Mirror”), the associate director of FBI and close working partner of Hoover.
A lot of critics cite the subpar makeup and boring plotting as factors why “J. Edgar” is underachieving. To be fair, the aged makeup effects on DiCaprio and Tolson is passable and despite the endless rumours, no one in fact can prove Hoover to be gay or is he plainly in a deep ‘bromance’ with Tolson since there’s no physical documents around or reliable witnesses to verify. At the end of the day, Black’s scribing is a mere summarization of Hoover’s career giving audience highlights into the elusive man. Is he a tyrant? Is he an alleged homosexual who craves for his mother’s attention and advice? Is he a paranoid director who keeps secret tabs on presidents? Guess only God knows not even Black or Eastwood.
And this is precisely the glaring problem of “J. Edgar”. Since there are no hard facts or concrete proof to sustain much of the happenings, audience is only given fleeting sequences on Hoover’s personalities and his works in the bureau, likely most of them can be found in history textbooks and libraries which make the viewing experience slightly underwhelming.
Those who are familiar with Clint Eastwood’s directorial efforts will know that he sure takes his time developing his story and characters and with very little accompanying music. And that’s probably account for the boring factor. But Eastwood is definitely a master working with his actors. Naomi Watts is convincingly icy cool as Hoover’s loyal secretary, Helen. British thespian Judi Dench is superb as Hoover’s no-nonsense mother and the particular scene where she muttered “She rather has a dead son than a daffodil for a son” will send shivers down your spine. Armie Hammer delivers an eye-opening performance as Tolson while Leonardo once again proves why he should at least earn an Academy Award nomination.
Technicalities wise, the design of the period setting and costumes is top notch. While this talky drama on one of the most controversial and powerful figures in America history can be meatier, it remains one of the must-watched drama all thanks to the excellent performances from the cast.
The main cast and crew talks about participating in this biographical drama in J. Edgar: A Complicated Man. Pity there’s very little behind-the-scenes and production anecdotes.
Colours are intentionally bleached so as to achieve a period look though images still look sharp and detailed. Dialogue which made up a major part of the movie is clear while Eastwood’s music score is almost nonexistent and the only powerful movement is a bomb blast in the beginning of the movie for the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack.
DVD RATING :
Review by Linus Tee