J. Edgar (2011)

<strong class="MovieTitle">J. Edgar</strong> (2011)

(On-demand video, March 2012) There’s little doubt that a biopic of J. Edgar Hoover is a good idea. Hoover was, after all, a dominant figure in twentieth-century America: The man who defined the FBI and led it for nearly 50 years, accumulating damaging dossiers on powerful people along the way.  Then there’s the man himself, filled with contradictions and character quirks; stutterer, driven, wed to the idea of law and order, devoted to his mother, not strictly heterosexual… It’s almost a wonder a big-budgeted romanced biography had to wait until 2011 to be released.  Still, source material and execution aren’t the same thing, and the big question at the end of J. Edgar is whether this is the best possible film one could have made about Hoover.  The script itself dares to question the usual biopic template by indulging in a lot of back-and-forth between Hoover’s early years and the end of his life: At any moment, the film is liable to switch between then and further-then, leaving a chaotic chronology.  (That Hoover lies to himself and others makes for a cute third-act plot point, but it also makes chunks of the film less than relevant.) Director Clint Eastwood made the choice to film the film in desaturated colors and dark lighting, creating claustrophobia at nearly every shot.  There’s also a bit of intentional blurring between Hoover’s life and the FBI’s early years, which is in-keeping with the character, but also suggests that a better film could have focused on either.  Not that the film is a complete miss: Leonardo DiCaprio is quite good as Hoover, playing a character over nearly fifty years and nearly disappearing in it.  In the end, J. Edgar is interesting to watch and revealing about its subject, but it’s not particularly involving or gripping.  Overlong at two hours and twenty minutes, J. Edgar is a flawed take on a flawed historical figure: Worth a look, but not a film that will remain in mind for long.

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