|February 23, 2012||Posted by Sep Gohardani under entertainment, reviews|
Film Information: Released January 20 2012; Certificate 15
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio; Armie Hammer; Naomi Watts; Damon Herriman; Ed Westwick; Jeffrey Donavan; Judi Dench
Director: Clint Eastwood
Screenwriter: Dustin Lance Black
Running Time: 137 Minutes
John Edgar Hoover (DiCaprio) is the head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, an organisation which he founded to replace the old Bureau of Investigation. Now an older man, he secures the services of a number of agents to detail his story, which primarily consists of how he came to power and the events surrounding his rise. Edgar’s memories include his relationship with his personal secretary Helen Gandy (Watts), his growing rapport with assistant Clyde Tolson (Hammer) and his investigations into both the famous Lindbergh Case and his various attempts to stop the Communist movement, one he viewed as terrorist, from infiltrating America. His close relationship with his mother Anna Marie (Dench) shapes his life, and her beliefs about particular issues make him suppress many of his feelings for Clyde in an attempt to be what his mother wants him to be. In the end, the man who started at the bottom of the ladder makes his way to the top, and becomes one of the most respected men in American society. The main question is, can he handle the strain?
Biopics aren’t necessarily the most successful films and this is for a number of reasons, the main one being that they just can’t drum up enough plot to be interesting, with the possible exception of the great Ed Wood. The main question here as a result was whether J Edgar could combine the inevitable artistic approach with a plotline that is both engaging and fulfilling.
Director Clint Eastwood (Letters From Iwo Jima; Flags of our Fathers; Unforgiven) is undoubtedly talented, and he has a wealth of experience, having been at the helm of countless films since the 70s. He has directed a cacophony of good films, bad films and ugly films (see what I did there) but the good films really are very good, with Letters From Iwo Jima being the best of them. Here, we were left to wonder which category this film would fall into, and I eventually came to the conclusion that it falls into none. It’s downright mediocre – while some parts are very well shot, it plods along at slower than walking pace, meaning that to be honest it really didn’t do much to keep me interested for a 137 minutes that seemed like eternity by the end. Admittedly, sections of the film are nicely done and provide moments of truly interesting cinema, but this isn’t sustained and the dreariness returns all too soon.
Leonardo DiCaprio (Inception; Catch Me If You Can; The Departed) is his usual excellent self, delivering yet another performance that can almost carry a film all on its own. His portrayal of Edgar is the part of this film that works best, but he simply doesn’t have much to work with. Bland screenwriting knocks him down, and though he packs his trademark charisma in to every line, it just feels stale. It’s all there as far as he is concerned, and the fact that it just disappoints proves all the more that an opportunity to make something compelling has been missed entirely here. Co-star Armie Hammer (The Social Network), famous for his role as the Winklevii (yes, that’s how I’m going to say it) in David Fincher’s Facebook-related drama, also puts in a solid performance as Edgar’s assistant Clyde Tolson, and their chemistry is probably the best thing about the film as a whole. Naomi Watts (King Kong; 21 Grams) is actually drier than usual; her performance was about as memorable an experience as zipping up your coat on a morning (in other words, I don’t have too much to say, which about sums it up). Her character did a couple of important things, but I found myself detached from it all and wondering whether I actually cared even as tears welled up in her eyes almost imploringly. Judi Dench’s character is even more inconsequential and annoying. I found myself just wishing her to go away every time she appeared on screen, which is not something that usually happens with the normally reliable actress – leading me to suspect the writing again.
J Edgar is, as I have made clear, a bit of a failure. Dustin Lance Black seems to think that packing as much dialogue as you can into scenes that 60% of the time feel redundant is the best way to go, and we get whole sections that allude to something but never really follow it up. I mean, we get what he’s trying to do, but the ‘secrets’ that he unveils are delivered with no gusto and, again, I found it very very hard to locate my cup of give-a-damn. Black also fails to give us any political intrigue at all, despite various attempts, so normally we must rely on the usually well-shot scene to keep us going. I can’t fault the man for effort, every character seems to be bursting with about 50,000 lines that they really want to say, but most of them either aren’t allowed to or instead come out with stuff that, despite the reactions of the rest of the cast, don’t mean anything to me in the slightest.
Tom Stern does a good job of the cinematography, and actually achieves the effect that I assume he wanted. It’s dark and edgy and paves the way for some ground-breaking revelations that end up breaking about as much ground as I do when I walk. That, however, is not Stern’s fault. He shoots the scenes in the Edgar home particularly well, and we get a sense of despair and pressure that we don’t really find anywhere else. Sadly, the team of Stern, DiCaprio and Hammer still couldn’t manage to hold the film up and it just ends up being a reasonably good-looking mess.
Overall, J Edgar missed its potential through a mixture of an over-eagerness to give us a backstory and a simple failure to create any atmosphere or empathy whatsoever. The most powerful scene is one between Hammer and DiCaprio, and that about sums up the film. They do their best, but sadly J Edgar is determined to remain bogged down in the mud of unrefined dialogue and shoddy storytelling. A shame, since I expected a little more from Eastwood, but ultimately “disappointing” is the word that sums it up best. As, I have to say, were the two girls sitting behind me in the cinema, who seemed to find most of it funny. What I’d find funny is their immediate banning from any film which is blatantly not a comedy. We seriously need a cinema police force.