Biography, by Mike Richardson, 03 February 2012

Director: Clint Eastwood

Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Armie Hammer and Naomi Watts

Country: USA

Runtime:

Release Date:

Language: English

When one of the most respected filmmakers in Hollywood, Clint Eastwood decided to make a biopic of one of the most powerful men in American history, J Edgar Hoover we should have seen a powerhouse of a movie however, J. Edgar doesn’t quite live up to expectations.

J. Edgar Hoover was the man responsible for modern crime fighting, he was the first director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and was instrumental in its organisation and operation. J Edgar will always be remembered for creating a huge crime-fighting agency and modernising police technology on a never before seen scale. Not only that, which would have been a decent biopic in its own right Hoover was also an incredibly complex character with rumours of homosexuality and transvestism, not to mention copious wiretaps and dossiers he amassed on many substantial Americans that he perceived to be a threat to the country. The whole idea of power corrupting and absolute power corrupting absolutely is hardly new to cinema but should have been a welcome addition to the Eastwood directorial canon.

Leonardo DiCaprio in Clint Eastwood's J. Edgar

Leonardo DiCaprio in Clint Eastwood's J. Edgar

J. Edgar falls short, possibly because there’s just too much going on with Hoover to try and shoehorn into the two-hour film. The direction is never less than competent, the script is cohesive and the performances are exemplary, however the whole doesn’t quite hold together as the narrative leads to confusion, some issues are never resolved, some merely hinted at and satisfaction (or exposition) are constantly denied.

Hoover remained FBI director for nearly half a century and “outlasted” eight presidents, during his tenure he presided over the most powerful organisation in America during the fight against domestic communism, the public enemies of John Dillinger, Baby Face nelson et al, and the infamous Lindbergh Kidnapping. With dressing such as these the meat of the story ends up being over garnished, as we are left with insufficient time to discover just what made J. Edgar tick.

Eastwood in his 35th film as director picks up on a great many issues such as Hoover’s overly influential mother, the illegal activities such that became synonymous with Hoover’s FBI, the suspected homosexuality of the man and the whole nature of what such executive power can do to morals. But none of these narrative threads are ever sufficiently tied up by the time the credits roll, possibly there was just too much to try and deal with as a comedic version of Hoover mincing around his FBI office in a floral print dress while listening to unsanctioned and illegal recordings of presidents’ infidelities, hangs around at the back of your mind while watching a very serious biopic.

All in all the despite a good to very good day at the office for everybody concerned J. Edgar never quite delivers. As a biopic it is closer to Oliver Stone’s Nixon than his JFK, and much closer to Scorsese’s The Aviator than his Raging Bull.

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