Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Review: J. Edgar

Last night I went to see the movie J.Edgar starring Leonardo DiCaprio and directed by Clint Eastwood.  I figured a movie that combined one of my favorite actors and directors was definitely worth seeing; I certainly was not disappointed.  I am very particular about the movies I go to see, especially movies that are supposed to depict historic events or people.  J. Edgar, because of the controversial and secretive life of the infamous FBI director, had the potential to really flop in terms of accuracy.  However, from what I could tell it did not.  The majority of the events and people portrayed in the movie were as accurate as they could possibly be (those that are up to question have to do with the secret, personal life of J. Edgar Hoover and would be difficult to corroborate).  Perhaps the most noticeable accuracy in the film were the use of accents by DiCaprio (who played Hoover) and the men who played the various presidents (Hoover served during the administrations of 8 U.S. Presidents).  In addition, as Hoover aged his voice also aged; this is also true of Armie Hammer, who played J. Edgar's best friend (and lover) Clyde Tolson.  Both actors were also made up perfectly in the scenes in which they played old men.  From what I have seen from movies thus far this year, the make up jobs done on the actors in this film is most deserving of the oscar.

Another major strength of the movie was the pace.  While it felt slow in some parts, it is only because those moments were meant to be slow and could not have been done any other way.  They also could not have been taken out because they were necessary.  Such scenes include a couple of the conversations J. Edgar has with his mother (played by Judy Dench in another fabulous performance).  These conversations, though, did wonders in helping the audience understand a few personality traits about J. Edgar and why he was the way he was.  If one believes psychology textbooks that claim that an unusually close relationship with his mother will make a boy become a homosexual, then it is apparent that J. Edgar's feelings towards his mother and his lack of a father figure made him into the closeted homosexual that he was.  In one scene after his mother passes, J. Edgar is depicted putting on her necklace and dress and talking to himself as if he were her.  While this scene cannot be proven as true, it was a disturbing but explanatory depiction of a man tortured with self doubt who had just lost his main source of encouragement and identity.  According to the movie, no matter he did, J. Edgar's mother while not knowing exactly what he knew or was doing was driving him to succeed.

The cast as a whole was incredibly solid.  DiCaprio was brilliant as J. Edgar Hoover and displayed the accent/voice talent that has allowed him to play such a wide variety of roles in recent years.  In my opinion, he is the best actor in Hollywood when it comes to taking on a different accent for a role.  Armie Hammer, the actor who played Clyde Tolson (and known more recently for his part in The Social Network), should be nominated for Best Supporting Actor.  His performance was incredible; his interactions with DiCaprio, especially in the more serious and tense scenes, were masterfully done.  He also aged his voice well in the scenes in which Hoover and Tolson were portrayed as old men.  In addition his body movements after his character suffered a stroke were spot on.  As mentioned earlier, Judy Dench came out with yet another brilliant acting job as she played Hoover's mother.  Not to be overlooked is Naomi Watts, who played Hoover's secretary and long time friend Helen Gandy.  While her character was sometimes overshadowed by the focus on Hoover and Tolson's homosexual relationship, she made the most of the camera time her character had and did quite a marvelous job.

Director Clint Eastwood has won two Best Director awards in the past, and this movie could make it three.  After the movie ended, my friend and I observed that many of Eastwood's movies of late have generally been about older men who struggle with an identity problem (Million Dollar Baby and Gran Torino for example).  In addition, I have noticed that as time goes on, the more serious his movies become.  All of his most recent movies depict people who are going through some sort of adversity and the movie teaches the audience some kind of moral lesson.  This movie is no different.  While it is not blatantly obvious, a definite lesson that can be drawn from this movie is that we should not judge people or form a premature opinion about them because we have no idea what they might be experiencing in their personal lives.  As we left the theater, I overheard one gentleman say "Still doesn't change my opinion of him."  It is certainly his right to feel however he does about J. Edgar Hoover, but now at least he can feel that way with having seen some of the things Hoover dealt with in his personal life.  There's an old saying that you should not judge a man until you have walked a mile in his shoes.  In J. Edgar, Eastwood allows us to spend over two hours in the shoes of one of the most legendary and mysterious figures in American history and by doing so allows us to understand him better than we could have before.


  1. Thanks for the review, I'll make sure to see this.

  2. You should, David. It's a good film. Definitely grew on me.