Plot: As the face of law enforcement in America for almost 50 years, J. Edgar Hoover was feared and admired, reviled and revered. But behind closed doors, he held secrets that would have destroyed his image, his career and his life.
Director: Clint Eastwood
Writer: Dustin Lance Black
Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Armie Hammer and Naomi Watts
What the hell happened to Clint Eastwood? He used make great films - "Mystic River", "Million Dollar Baby", "Changeling" and "Letters to Iwo Jima". Then came "Gran Torino" which while still being a decent film featured absolutely awful supporting cast which I can only assume was chose by someone blindfolded and drunk. And then last year there was misguided "Hereafter". But "J. Edgar" is so horribly bland, chaotic and messy which leads me to the one conclusion - it is definitely Eastwood's worst directing effort in years. I mean it's so bad it managed to make JFK assassination-related scenes look boring on screen, quite possibly for the first time in movie history.
I can't decide what was worst - the script or the execution of the story. The plot of the film focuses on way too many things without really telling us anything relevant and jumps around much like in "The Iron Lady" - 2011 was definitely not a good year for biopics. Much as with a misfire about Margaret Thatcher we observe Edgar looking back at his life, frequently not in chronological order. Most of the interesting things that happened during his days as the chef of FBI are omitted, in fact we don't learn that much from watching this movie. It's 2,5 hours long but I can't remember anything especially interesting happening in it or even anything actually happening in the film. The movie drags on mercilessly, the characters are never fully established on screen, sometimes they even disappear from the picture never to be seen again. It's especially baffling since Eastwood always had such a good hand to chose scripts he directs.
The film is so jumpy most of the time you have no idea what is going on, worse yet - you don't care. We watch Edgar climbing to the top in his past, being strict, focused and determined in order to make FBI as efficient as it can be. Those scenes are the best in the movie and it reaches its peak during the sequences when we observe Edgar and his co-workers trying to resolve the case of kidnapping of Charles Lindbergh's baby, which then turns out to be a case that will change a lot of things about how the law enforcement in USA works. But the movie is also filled with pointless scenes when we watch older Edgar, who utters some of the most cliched and unnecessary lines spoken in any movie from last year.
At one point of the movie I thought it almost looked as if the writer realized what a train wreck he created and tried to put as much drama as he could into the picture - courtroom scenes, homophobia, closet homosexuality, dead babies in the woods, even Shirley Temple appearing out of nowhere. To make matters worse the entire movie is filmed in such a dark way that each of the shots is almost poured over with blackness and you can't even see much of what is going on - instead of being atmospheric the cinematography is yet another thing that fails. But the worst part was make up - Dicaprio as older Edgar wasn't bad, but what they did to Arnie Hammer looked so bad it was hilarious.
Leonardo Dicaprio is asked to do a lot of things, some of them quite risky, here and because of that he really deserved a better script. He delivers a decent performance, very authentic and clearly he put a lot of effort in his work here, but the scenes where he is forced to mumble all of those stupid lines as he plays older J. Edgar drag for so long, the good impression from his work in previous sequences starts to disappear. With better script Dicaprio might have been able to create work as great as what he did in "Aviator" - other flawed biopic. Unfortunately the movie never gives him a chance to create a strong and mesmerizing performance. Also I'm not entirely sure what the authors wanted to achieve with portraying his character the way they did - for most of the movie he seems like a weirdo who lives with his mother and would most likely do anything for her approval. It's no wonder people all over the Internet compare his portrayal here to Norman Bates.
But the worst thing is that the writer of that piece of crap is Dustin Lance Black who won Oscar for his script to "Milk". To see such a lack of sensitivity and awful quality of writing from someone who obviously cares about issues shown in the movie - or shall I say barely touched on - and who apparently was given his Oscar mostly because his creative assembling of the parts of documentary and books is a real shame. I will never again be able to view "Milk" with as big fondness as I was able to, as I'm shocked at the lack of skill important problems were handled here in "J. Edgar".
Jeffrey Donovan who was so memorable in "Changeling" has one scene here as Robert Kennedy and it is awful. Josh Lucas who could have created something really great as a father of kidnapped baby can't do so - again because of the script. And then there is Judi Dench, who is as underused as she was in "My Week with Marilyn". She plays Edgar's judgemental and controlling mother and I wish she had more scenes, because when she was on screen there was always a promise of a good movie waiting to happen. And then she disappeared and all hope went away along with her.