Thursday, March 8, 2012

J. Edgar

By s. Thursday, March 8, 2012 , , , , , , , ,
33/100 (137 min, 2011)
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

Iron Man

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.
There is also a boring soundtrack playing in the background, which fails to be either memorable or exciting and it brings absolutely nothing to the picture. The worst part is that the flashbacks and present-time sequences have absolutely nothing distinctive about them, apart from the awful make up that the actors were asked to endure, so at certain moments its impossible to tell what exactly are we watching. After a while it all blends together into a very forgettable, misguided mess of a movie. The is no excitement, tension or urgency - the film flat lines throughout its run time whether we are seeing big crisis in Edgar's life or great success, it's just about as interesting as the scenes when he eats dinner with his mother.

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.
There are plenty of good actors in supporting cast - especially Arnie Hammer, who shone so bright in "The Social Network" in his double work, delivers very good performance here as Edgar's second in command and a man who is in love with him - Clyde Tolson. That subplot - of obviously strong feelings between two men - is so horribly mistreated in the movie, I couldn't believe it. The script lacks courage and in the end makes what was with all certainty a great source of pain for both men in real life look as silly as if it was an After School Drama about confusion and sexuality. I was astonished how mercilessly the plot was killed off - there is one fight scene and then there is huge gap - we don't know why characters did what they did and how did it happen that they remained so close all those years, despite the obvious hurt they must have felt. Its not even rescued by beautiful scene two of them share near the end of the picture.

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".
Nonetheless, Hammer's work is excellent and as Dicaprio has many better performance than his work in "J. Edgar" it becomes pretty much the only memorable performance from this film. It's a real shame his scenes as Clyde as an old man were ruined by horribly caricature make up. We also have Naomi Watts whose character - Edgar's secretary and a woman who once declined marrying him - is completely unnecessary in the movie and Watts might have just as well be replaced by a coat rack, because she really has nothing do to in the film. Her scenes are complete waste of time and really could have been cut from the film.

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.
I suppose we should be thankful real J. Edgar didn't have psychological problems that caused hallucinations. The one thing that distinguishes "J. Edgar" from "The Iron Lady" is the lack of awful scenes where the protagonist is hallucinating. Other than that it's pretty much the same movie - you learn nothing from it, the protagonist is far from someone you can sympathize with, the whole film is a gigantic waste of time and the performances are the only thing that didn't fail in it


  1. I agree with your views...
    But it was good to some extent. Had better expectations from Clint Eastwood.

    1. Definetly, his films used to make my top 10, and this one made bottom 10 :( I hope he returns to the form soon.

  2. Nice write up Sati.

    I didn't hate this film, but my gosh was I bored to tears with it. It was a pointless exercise. The length was too long, the GAY subplot was painted with such a heavy hand that it felt poor taste almost. LOL

    I just didn't like it. :-)

    Your review is much better than the film

    1. Thank you! Yeah, I was bored so much too, I wish that Eastwood just focused on the kidnapping case than at least it would be entertaining and maybe even thrilling.

  3. It wasn't terrible like I was imagining, but it does feel a little like it is just showing Hoover's achievements, rather than the actual person himself, which they actually try to do but sometimes work and sometimes fail. Regardless though, DiCaprio is awesome. Nice review Sati.

    1. Yes, he was really good, it's a shame the movie didn't got to the level of his performance.

  4. I only wanted to see this because I was hoping Clint Eastwood would do something different. Wrong.

    I enjoyed what he had been doing from Mystic River to Changeling. Sure, they had elements of Oscar-bait but they were still wonderfully-crafted and engaging films. Gran Torino was stupid. Invictus was boring. Hereafter sucked and now this? I think it's time for Clint to either make one more good movie or just retire into the sunset.

    1. Yeah, he was on the downward spiral ever since Changelling, it's a shame because his movies always show a promise but they are terribly misguided, if only he chose only one aspect and pursuited it, but he tried to do all of it and it failed. Even in Changelling which I love one can clearly see it's definetly not the same quality as Unforgiven and Mystic River.

  5. I have been consistently surprised by the reactions to this film, as I really enjoyed it. For me, Dustin Lance Black was really good as the screenwriter, but he's showing a whole other side of the gay experience, this time looking at the impact of the closet instead of the more rebellious take in Milk. I found Leo & Armie's scenes to be quite moving, actually, but I'm clearly in the minority on this one. Sorry you didn't enjoy it as much!

    1. The scenes were definetly moving, but I was sad there weren't more of them, they should really focus the movie on that, since showing all of major Edgar's achievements in satisfying way would not be possible.