Movie Review: J. Edgar- A Dismally Paced and Unorganized Biography Picture That Suffers from Subpar Writing, Incomplete Performances, and a Directionless Plot

Fictional biography pictures are a rare breed in the cinematic genres that always comes with an initial reaction of criticism as to who is making the film and who will portray the historical person in question. And for many, the name Clint Eastwood seems to evoke a profound sense of trust in his abilities to deliver a credible film. But for those who are actually paying attention to Eastwood’s films in the past two decades there is little comfort that the efficiency he is known for will grant us a quality product in the aftermath. Eastwood isn’t necessarily an auteur, meaning someone who reflects his own beliefs or experiences through the art of film, but rather a calculating storyteller motivated by production efficiency rather than personal conviction. And that lack of personal motivation is evident in his latest film J. Edgar, which is loose and speculative biography picture about the notorious megalomaniac in charge of the creation of the Federal Bureau of Investigations, John Edgar Hoover. Leaving aside the rather questionable presumptions of Dustin Lance Black’s script, the film itself is a directionless, passionless, and overall indolent film filled with questionable acting and pedestrian cinematography. Early conjecture on whether or not Leonardo DiCaprio would grab an Oscar nomination this year for another melodramatic performance is put to rest as we are witnesses to a strained DiCaprio scene after scene struglling in a role that seems far from completion. J. Edgar gives us serious doubts as to Eastwood’s ability to be involved in the stories he tells as well as giving us a clearer observation into Leonardo DiCaprio’s limited abilities. A biography picture is meant to give us insight to a particular individual that says something about our society as a whole or perhaps it will pertain to something relevant in our modern day problems. However, J. Edgar gives us nothing but simplistic script writing, laughable acting, and a contrite walk through John Edgar Hoover’s life that inevitably feels like it’s delivered in real time.

This isn’t the first time a film that has tried to dissect the complex persona of J. Edgar Hoover and it certainly won’t be the last. But even in the now dated The Secret Files of J. Edgar Hoover, there is an obvious direction and grounded presentation to the film that exceeds the lack of prudence Eastwood’s latest film possesses. It’s not that Eastwood can’t give his films a planned direction but it is increasingly obvious that he doesn’t care if they do. This conclusion is sound if you just take a look at his last seven films and see that five of them are mediocre at best (Changeling, Flags of Our Fathers, Hereafter, Invictus, and now J. Edgar). J. Edgar is a meandering and directionless biography picture that resorts to droning narration from a weak and unconvincing performance from DiCaprio. Joel Cox’s editing abilities aren’t showcased as he merely follows the messy script from Dustin Lance Black (Milk, “Big Love”) that skips from different periods in Edgar’s life and focuses on all his different relationships, including his devoted secretary (Naomi Watts), his overbearing and demanding mother (Judi Dench), and his number two  man and speculated lover Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer). When you’re dealing with such profound relationships and their implications on a man’s life that spans multiple decades it just seems an incredible disservice to jam it in a mere two and half hours when a mini-series would have been more useful. It’s a bizarre paradox that J. Edgar doesn’t seem like it has enough information or deep character reflection yet is unbearably too long to experience. All of the relationships are based on superficial presentation and all have their flaws, whether they become melodramatic or unnecessarily creepy. One scene in particular is when J. Edgar puts on his mother’s dress and jewelry after her death to mimic what she might say to him in his emotional turmoil, which is pure assumption. And rather coming off as a mental episode of weakness, it shares the qualities of Anthony Perkin’s as Norman Bates in Hitchcock’s movie Psycho. Because the film lacks a core of passion and direction, from both the screenwriter and the director, the entire film feels superficially flat and simply doesn’t have any credible elements to make up the ground to make it even remotely enjoyable.

There is no doubt that J. Edgar Hoover was an interesting historical figure who had personal and professional conflicts.  Certainly screenwriters such as Dustin Lance Black are free to speculate on the potentially repressed homosexual tendencies J. Edgar might have had and the strangely close relationship he had with Clyde Tolson, and this review doesn’t criticize them for their particular stance. Rather if you intend on tackling a subjective individual who was clearly power hungry and complex, you must do it through a script that understands time limitations as well as being sharply focused on what makes that individual who he is instead of haphazardly dealing with the personal relationships surrounding the subject, which are presented in a shallow and unreflective fashion. None of the performances are noteworthy through J. Edgar and it is an increasingly embarrassing performance for Leonardo DiCaprio as it becomes increasingly obvious that it’s an actor desperately trying to portray J. Edgar Hoover. So when the writing is typically unsubstantial, the acting is disastrously lackluster, and the technical elements of the film meet the mediocre standard of modern filmmaking, who do we inevitably blame? Eastwood’s quality of filmmaking has been plummeting as of late and perhaps it’s time for him to hang up the saddle. Most of his career as a director is filled with unexceptional work and occasionally has the classic gem that fans hold up as evidence of a religious devotion. There is absolutely nothing to admire in J. Edgar and it’s about time that Eastwood take leave before we feel obligated to see another ridiculous display of second-rate filmmaking.

Grade: C-

2 Responses to “Movie Review: J. Edgar- A Dismally Paced and Unorganized Biography Picture That Suffers from Subpar Writing, Incomplete Performances, and a Directionless Plot”
  1. Hang says:

    The information on this post is handy.

  2. Pearlstein says:

    I saw this movie last night with my wife. Wow do I owe my wife big time. You see it was my turn to pick the movie, and now I might have to go see Gidget goes to Hawaii with the Flying Nun.

    This movie sucked big time. The movie’s best part was that it was slow and boring. The makeup sucked, the dialogue sucked, the story line sucked and there was absolutely no sex and no violence, a movie staple. Oh, I forgot to mention the sets sucked. They looked as if a high school photo shop class made them.

    Ordinarily I would say wait til it comes to cable, but don’t waste your time. Do what I do and search for any movie starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and watch it.

    J. Edgar gets five s’s for sucks big time.

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