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'J. Edgar' Movie Review: A Subtle but Striking Love Story Set in a Historical Backdrop
'J. Edgar' features half a century of the life of the feared, admired, and often criticized J. Edgar Hoover, one of the most powerful and controversial figures in the law enforcement of 20th century America.
"J. Edgar" features half a century of the life of the feared, admired, and often criticized J. Edgar Hoover, one of the most powerful and controversial figures in the law enforcement of 20th century America. Its powerful material also explores the man's dark secrets, which could potentially destroy his career and his personal life.
Offering a subjective look at the life of the first director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), this biographical picture is a mixed bag. On the good side, it generally delivers compelling acting performances. It also shines with its well-crafted, immersive, and emotional scenes. The establishment and development of relationships in its story are involving. However, it still has major fallbacks. It could have been a much better film if not for its cheesy makeup, some inconsistent lighting, and the very disturbing young voice of Leonardo diCaprio -- even when he plays the role of a very old man. And so, it turns out not as convincing as expected in the way it presents the supposed three-dimensional portrait of Hoover's character.
Personally, I find the visual issues of the movie as really stressful elements on screen. The fake wrinkles, jowls, body fat, and other age-related traits placed on the relatively young cast often look terrible and troubling. Sometimes, there are moments that the makeup works fine, especially with the way it complements some properly lit scenes. But in the end, all the more that the entire package becomes really disappointing because of the inconsistent jumps between working and non-working makeup. At some point, I was already thinking of how it becomes incomparable to the impressively well-aged Orson Welles as Charles Foster Kane in the 1940s classic "Citizen Kane."
Both the audio-visual and thematic aspects of this period drama fall short with the way diCaprio handles the overall package of his character as an aging man. He lacks the credibility as the narrator of his character's own story, primarily because of the voice and makeup issues. These greatly affect the nest of flashbacks of the film's non-linear storytelling approach.
Amidst its flaws, it is still interesting to note that "J. Edgar" is not without its moments. It remains a decently watchable fare with its fine dose of drama, humor, and psychology. It still has a couple of admirable scenes that support its enigmatic, naive, repressed, and polarizing main character and the people around him. The story's goals, conflicts, and motivations successfully show both the forceful and vulnerable sides of an anguished icon whose professional success is almost as fascinating as the rumors surrounding his close relationship with his friend and colleague, his assistant director at the FBI Clyde Tolson.
Although the complicated tropes of history get undermined in the story, the movie works as an intriguingly elegiac portrait of a complicated and often unlikable man knocked off his pedestal. Most of its scenes effectively invest on emotions, which later on become crucial in delivering some really arresting moments. Its focus on Hoover's personal life and relationships allows the character to grow as a multi-faceted, fiery, and charismatic personality on screen, even at the middle of its annoying age-related problems as the story jumps back and forth in time.
As expected, helmer Clint Eastwood proves he is a veteran actor's director who is able to flesh out great performances not only from DiCaprio, but also from Armie Hammer as Tolson and Naomi Watts as Helen Gandy. Even with some supposedly sensational scenes, the exquisite presentation justifies their sympathetic presence in the story.
This ambitious biopic works more as a subtle but striking love story than a historical piece. Some people may feel that it makes no significant contribution to the understanding of the real-life Hoover, but others may better comprehend that this film is the type of cinematic piece that intends to really blur the lines between verifiable facts and pure speculation. It also works as an LGBT offering that earnestly fine-tunes the safe middle ground between exposÃ© and unrequited romance. It provides a fair-mined depiction of a man who probably deserved less in some aspects of his life, but is worthy of more in others.
At times well mounted and at times cumbersome and confusing, this laborious drama is not as involving as it might have been. Although its striking parts deliver the goods, judging the film as a whole still makes it a missed opportunity on creating a masterpiece.