Movie Review: J. Edgar

It’s been a while since I’ve been in a real movie theatre watching a newly released film; I think Captain America was the last one I saw, and that was back in July.

Friday night, it was time to step out to the Hollywood Theater and see what I thought was going to be an Oscar-worthy, riveting biopic, “J. Edgar.”

(Already you can tell that it’s not that great, huh?)

Clint Eastwood’s newest film showcases J. Edgar Hoover’s life from the time he started as the director of the Bureau of Investigation to the time he died. Most of the story is told through his recollection, as he tells several agents his views of the Lindbergh Baby case, the Bolsheviks uprisings and arrests he made. What the film does that is different is it centers around the good in his career, rather than the crazy. You almost feel sympathy toward him; as fellow moviegoer Bethany said, “I don’t know whether to hate him or feel sorry for him.”

The film had some great aspects to it, but unfortunately got dragged down in the not-so-wonderful. Director Eastwood truly incorporated the good, the bad and the ugly (how fitting) into what we thought upon walking in as a true Oscar contender but what we felt walking out as a rather pretentious biopic that would have been better Netflixed five months after its release.

First, the Good:

  • Armie Hammer (J. Edgar’s best friend and disputed lover, Tolson) delivers what I think is going to get him a Best Supporting Oscar nomination. We all knew he could act after seeing him play the Winklevoss twins in last year’s Oscar-buster “The Social Network,” but his performance in “J. Edgar” takes it to a whole other level.
  • Naomi Watts was perfection as Miss Gandy, J. Edgar’s secretary and initial love interest.
  • The editing and piecing together of the story, while confusing at times, puts everything into perspective. One of my favorite moments is when elderly J. Edgar and Tolson get in the elevator discussing the Kennedys, the doors close, and then open to reveal the two men, younger, talking about the Lindbergh Case.
  • The aging of J. Edgar and Miss Gandy rivals that of Brad Pitt in “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.” Oscar nominations for makeup will be pouring in.

Now the Bad:

  • The stories they presented were good ones, but sometimes they were pieced together in a way that would be confusing to anyone not seriously paying attention.
  • If you noticed, of the “Good” performances, I didn’t mention Leonardo DiCaprio, who was the initial draw of the film. There were certain scenes where I was stunned by his performance — most notably, the scene after his mother (Judi Dench) has died and he wears her dress — but in too many scenes did I find myself watching Leo in period dress, sporting yet another perfectly executed speech pattern. One reviewer said it was like watching an imitator rather than an actor: I tend to agree.
  • Like I said in “the Good,” the aging was done spectacularly, except for Tolson. At points, he  reminded me of what aged Ken Watanabe looked like in the beginning of “Inception,” but paler and faker.
  • Judi Dench was Judi Dench, not Mrs. Hoover. Though I’ve come to expect nothing less than that, it will be really annoying if someone — cough Maggie Smith in “Deathly Hallows Part 2” cough — gets passed up for recognition as a supporting actress just because Dame Dench made a 10-minute appearance in a gritty biopic.

And finally, the most fun to write about, the Ugly:

  • The audience: sitting in a theatre in a college town, you would hope people to be mature. But throw in a kiss between Armie Hammer and Leonardo DiCaprio, and all of a sudden, that’s all everyone is paying attention to, with laughter and gasps. The scene of that fight and Tolson’s confession was perfectly executed; the audience reaction made it awkward.
  • Leo’s gut. I don’t know if it was makeup or what, but I certainly hope the real DiCaprio keeps his physique, because it would be a terrible loss to women everywhere if he ends up looking like he did as the older J. Edgar.

The final diagnosis: “J. Edgar” is definitely a FILM rather than a MOVIE and requires an attentive eye. Maybe that’s why it would be better as a Netflix-in-a-few-months rather than a $7 theatre ticket show.

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One Comment

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  1. I agree with everything you say. Especially the part about the audience. Grow up, people. This is 2011, not 1950.

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