Reviews for the Easily Distracted:
Title: J. Edgar
How Does Leo Look In A Dress? *Sigh* That's really not the focus of the movie.
But Does He Wear A Dress Or Not? Well, yes. But in the context of the scene it makes sense. Sort of.
Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: Two and a half files on Eleanor Roosevelt's lesbian affairs out of five.
Brief Plot Synopsis: Zealous law enforcement official molds FBI in his own image, becomes one of the most powerful closet cases in American history.
Tagline: "The Most Powerful Man In The World."
Better Tagline: "Yet He Still Couldn't Stand Up To Mommy."
Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: Jumping back and forth through various points in Hoover's career, from his formative years as an assistant to A. Mitchell Palmer to tangling with Robert F. Kennedy, director Clint Eastwood focuses mostly on the marquee events in Hoover's career (the Lindbergh baby kidnapping, the FBI's war on organized crime) as well as his complicated relationships with his mother Annie (Judi Dench) and Associate FBI Director Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer).
"Critical" Analysis: J. Edgar is a noble failure, but a failure all the same. In his haste to portray the former FBI director in a sympathetic light, Eastwood too often strays into inadvertently campy territory, and never provides more than a surface view of the man who essentially created the apparatus of modern law enforcement.
Discarding simple chronology, Eastwood swings from the Palmer raids and the nascent "Bureau of Investigation" nabbing Bruno Hauptmann (and the subsequent passage of the so-called "Lindbergh Law") to the increasingly suspicious Director illegally obtaining dirt on everyone -- from JFK to MLK -- in a position to threaten him. It's not a hard approach to follow, and I can only assume he resorted to it to better demonstrate Hoover's enduring and rigid paranoia.
The script, written by Milk's Dustin Lance Black, is most revealing in regard to Hoover's relationship with his mother, whom the director apparently lived with until her death in 1938 (when Hoover was 43). Speculation about the Director's sexuality has been rampant since WWII, and Black and Eastwood appear to agree Hoover was -- at the very least -- a celibate homosexual (the American Morrissey, if you will), both because of his mother ("I'd rather have a dead son than a 'daffodil'") and the potentially disastrous repercussions to his career should he get caught in the act.
Romantic tension between Hoover and his "longtime companion" Tolson (who eventually inherited Hoover's estate) leads to one of the movie's more unintentionally laughable moments, as the two fight each other, then share what was possibly their only kiss. Eastwood (and DiCaprio, and Hammer) have my sympathies here. Given today's movie audiences, it's almost impossible to depict a scene like this without eliciting moronic laughter. So kudos for attempting to handle the issue with respect.
However, the movie has plenty of other problems. For starters, I don't remember Eastwood being so ham-handed. I recall Unforgiven as a subtle and sobering commentary on the nature of violence, yet he mercilessly bludgeons us with obvious parallels between Hoover's obsessive need to get dirt on his enemies and the post-9/11 security state. What he fails to do is differentiate between the dangers of giving one man control over investigative power (FBI directors are now limited to ten-year terms) and those brought about when the entire government tacitly agrees to suspend individual liberties.
Eastwood wants us to view Hoover as a tragic figure of sorts, but you can't have it both ways. Does having a domineering mother excuse decades-long abuses of power, illegal surveillance and intimidation? The movie glosses over COINTELPRO, the Bureau's domestic surveillance program, except at film's end, when it's obvious Hoover is nearing the end of his life. Indeed, almost suggesting Hoover's zealous pursuit of dirt on Martin Luther King Jr. and the SCLC were the result of a decaying mind and not, as was actually the case, the logical endpoint of a career spent ferreting out real and imagined "radicals."
And I'm not even sure why it was necessary to cast Naomi Watts as Hoover's trusted secretary Helen Gandy. Her character is a cipher: Does she disapprove of Hoover's actions? Does she pity him? Who knows? Who cares? Finally, if I'm going to get it all off my chest, the age make-up in J. Edgar is some of the worst I've ever seen. I mean, like, For the Boys bad. That's actually a shame, because DiCaprio is good in this. I don't know if he's Oscar nomination good (because he's going to get one), but it's a fine performance.
Finally, somebody needs to tell Eastwood to stop scoring his own films. I'd rather have listened to 137 minutes of Goo Goo Dolls ballads than another minute of that plinky, Eyes Wide Shut style piano noodling. He and John Carpenter should be banned from keyboards whenever they have a film in production.
J. Edgar is in theaters today. And remember gentlemen, if you're going with the fishnets, make sure to wear long pants.
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