Directed by Clint Eastwood
Though not as bad as some people make it out to be, Clint Eastwood's latest directorial effort is certainly not his most engaging. Despite a strong leading performance by DiCaprio, J. Edgar is a film that lacks singularity, changing pace and taking unnecessarily long strides and short cuts throughout the story, making it a sprawling epic that never manages to hone in on any particular dramatic focal point. In other words, it's just another in a long line of mediocre biopics.
Leonardo DiCaprio is an amazing actor. This is by no means his best performance (or even amongst his best) but his ability to completely save this movie is the mark of a truly talented individual. Starting out with an uneven accent and labored speech patterns, I had my doubts near the beginning, but my cynicism was swiftly doused as the film progressed. Both looking and acting his age at all times throughout the story's obligatory time changes, DiCaprio captures the essence of his character, making the dramatic scenes work far greater than I had originally anticipated.
The makeup used on DiCaprio is easily the most convincing. His wrinkled exterior paired with DiCaprio's aged mannerisms make you believe he could be the age he was intended to be. Armie Hammer, on the other hand, was not so successful in his transformation. With a thick, liver-spotted, wrinkle-free mask that allowed for very little facial expression of any kind, Hammer's makeup made him look like a 300-year-old burn victim with little resemblance to a normal human being. His inability to emote made his performance during these passages far less believable, however for the younger parts his performance was quite adequate. Not as engaging as DiCaprio, but this wasn't his show to steal in the first place.
One of my main concerns with this movie is its mode of presentation. Watching DiCaprio emulate the mannerisms of an aged J. Edgar Hoover is impressive in its own right, but many of these scenes felt unnecessary, throwing the entire structure and basis of this picture out of alignment. I feel that many of these scenes of Hoover as an older man were written with the intent of giving DiCaprio a chance to display his range in acting in hopes of winning him his first Oscar, but considering DiCaprio's serious lack-of-an-Oscar for this performance, I can only view it as a failure. Skipping over large portions of time for no better reason than to give DiCaprio more material to work with, J. Edgar is a perfect example of storytelling poorly exploited in an attempt to win awards. I feel screenwriter Dustin Lance Black couldn't follow up the critical success of his Oscar-winning screenplay for 'Milk' largely due to this narrative flaw. Or maybe he just didn't make Hoover seem gay enough.
This is a seriously flawed movie, there is no doubt about that. But that doesn't stop it from being a perfectly adequate bio, with a compelling lead performance and an interesting main character. I could neither recommend nor discourage you from watching this movie, just know going in that it won't blow your mind.