Clint Eastwood’s latest biopic surrounds the controversial career of FBI agent J. Edgar Hoover, exceptionally portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio.
DiCaprio’s performance cannot be faulted, as both a young J. Edgar and as a decrepit and somewhat delusional old man. The rest of Eastwood’s cast provide equally as credible performances; with Armie Hammer as Edgar’s right hand man and long term partner Clyde Tolson, Naomi Watts as the ever loyal Helen Gandy and Judi Dench as Edgar’s eccentric and overbearing mother. There is even a welcomed minor appearance from Gossip Girl favourite Ed Westwick.
It is a shame then that such a talented cast is let down by an overcomplicated and mind numbingly dull script. One that jumps all over the place and leaves you with a headache rather than the historical insight you might be looking for.
The decision, be it blamed on Dustin Lance Black’s script or Eastwood’s direction, to employ the classic and fairly predictable flashback technique may well have been selected as an attempted dramatic tool to add hindsight or highlight Edgar’s change in character. Instead, however, it causes the script to appear as unstable and irrational as J. Edgar himself looks in his final years.
Despite Eastwood’s claim that he would steer clear of Edgar’s alleged closet homosexuality it is not something that he leaves untouched. When Edgar employs Tolson regardless of his lack of experience or interest in the Bureau you immediately engage in this developing relationship.
The two become inseparable as both colleagues and close acquaintances until their relationship reaches a climax during a passionate kiss and jealous confrontation. But that’s it.
Eastwood quickly makes an almighty leap to an elderly Tolson and Edgar still as close as they once were and leaves us guessing about what on earth happened in between.
Far too many of the integral parts of Edgar’s life are hinted at and not dealt with in enough detail. Such is the case with his relationship with Tolson, many of the illegal strategies he employed and in general his unwavering influence upon America.
Audiences are given a glimpse at a holding of hands or eavesdrop the end of a phone call and then it’s up to us to fill in the blanks.
The absence of any Oscar nominations speaks for itself; after much hype Eastwood disappoints with this tedious and drawn out disaster that even Leo can’t save.
Director: Clint Eastwood
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Armie Hammer, Naomi Watts, Judi Dench, Jeffrey Donovan