Saturday, May 26, 2012

Review: J. Edgar

I had spent the better part of the last two days jousting with Excel Spreadsheets so I was looking forward to catching a flick last night.  There were three readily available options: Men in Black 3 at the cinema, The Woman in Black via On Demand, or my most recent Netflix disc - J. Edgar.  I let my girlfriend choose, because I wasn’t partial to any of those options.  Her choice was J. Edgar, which clearly turned into a “be careful of what you wish for” moment, because she ended up walking out of the room before the end of the film utterly bored.

I concur that the movie was rather mundane, but I do not think it was a total waste of time. I should however qualify that statement by revealing that I am a bit of a history enthusiast, so for me a film about the life of the former director of the FBI was somewhat interesting on two distinct levels.  On the first level, I followed the narrative, placing it within the context American history as I understand it while cognizant of the fact that Hollywood is rarely ever historically accurate.  The second level was in regards to the choices made by the creative team in depicting Hoover’s life.  Details about his personal affairs have been greatly debated since his passing as much of what is known has been disseminated through rumor and innuendo.  In this film, credible sources have been ignored; questionable ones accepted; and vice versa.  So I watched with interest to see what choices the creative team made in this narrative in regards to facts.

On paper, this is a strong cast headlined by Leonardo DiCaprio, Judy Dench, Naomi Watts, and Armie Hammer, but in a lot of ways all of the major players are as bland as muted as the plot and cinematography.  In the film, there are times where I felt like DiCaprio was absolutely channeling the complexities of Hoover and then there were other times where it all seemed off.  I am a fan of DiCaprio and his movies, but in all honestly, he does not possess a great amount of range as an actor.  He is at his best when he stays within his comfort zone.  In my opinion, this film and this role are a bit too much of a stretch for him.  His was a very uneven performance that is emblematic of the problems that plagued the film as a whole. 

As for rest of the principles, Armie Hammer as Clive Tolson (Social NetworkMirror Mirror) does little more than stand around in bad makeup and carefully tailored suits, casting longing looks at DiCaprio’s Hoover.  Judy Dench makes some painfully odd choices playing Hoover’s mother that are a little too creepy for comfort and the usually feisty Naomi Watts relegates herself to a sullen existence throughout the two hours of running time.

At the end of the day, the problem with this film is that not a lot of substance manifests onscreen and what does is not necessarily something that appeals to a general audience.  Furthermore, Hoover is an irredeemable character that would not be able to draw empathy even from the late mother Theresa.  So when you add this all up, you are left with a film that is neither engaging nor entertaining.  It’s the worst kind of biopic in that it has no real purpose embedded in its narrative.  I am going to recommend you take a pass on this one and hope that DiCaprio fares better in The Great Gatsby due out in December.

Standout Performance: Josh Lucas did a decent job in portraying Charles Lindbergh in very limited screen time.


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