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J. EDGAR

J. EDGAR2011

"What's important at this time is to re-clarify the difference between hero and villain."
-- J. Edgar Hoover

J. Edgar is a 2011 biographical drama directed by Clint Eastwood that centers around the life of J. Edgar Hoover (Leonardo DiCaprio), the first director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). The film is told through a series of flashbacks as Hoover dictates his life story to a series of writers in order to have his life's story on paper. It takes us back to his beginnings with the Justice Department all the way through his years as the head of the FBI; however, the film chooses to focus specifically on two specific aspects of Hoover's life: the case surrounding the kidnapping and murder of Charles Lindbergh's (Josh Lucas) son, and the alleged romantic relationship Hoover had with his right-hand man, Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer).

When I first saw the trailer for this film, I was thoroughly impressed and began to think this might be the film to beat come Oscar season (for those of you who've been reading me for a while, you'll know that I placed this film as my second most anticipated film of fall 2011). Most of the reasoning behind my excitement was the apparent brilliance it looked like DiCaprio would bring to the role, and the fact that Eastwood was directing didn't necessarily hurt the film's chances either. Early on, I was predicting that DiCaprio might finally bring home an Oscar statuette for this performance, but after the film was released, it opened to some rather mixed reviews. Although most critics agreed that DiCaprio gives a powerhouse performance in the titular role, it seemed as though the screenplay and the direction bogged the movie down and made it terribly uninteresting. Still, I had to give the film a chance on my own, so here's my thoughts.

Let's start with the acting this time around. While I do think DiCaprio did a great job with the role, I personally don't think it's really as good as he's been in the past. It's a far cry from his Oscar-nominated performance in 2004's The Aviator, which I consider to be the best of his career, and personally, I don't think I'd put it in his top five. Still, it's serviceable and a head above what another actor might have been able to do, so I suppose he should be applauded. He's already received a Golden Globe nomination for the performance, but he'll have a tough time bringing home the win with competition from the likes of Ryan Gosling, George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Michael Fassbender. The rest of the cast fills out nicely, but there really isn't anyone truly to rave about. Hammer does well in the main supporting male role, and he's been nominated for a Screen Actor's Guild Award. Judi Dench does well in a limited role, but she's vastly under-utilized. Also watch for some nice scenes from Naomi Watts, who plays Hoover's secretary Helen Gandy.

Now, for the screenplay which has drawn so much criticism. After watching this film, I can honestly say that all the criticism it has received is definitely deserved. While the film does well as to tell some of the major events of Hoover and the FBI's early stages, it all feels very dry, and there's little emotional punch behind any of the scenes in the film. There are some scenes that should be highly emotionally-charged, but I could hardly muster more than a yawn throughout the flick. There's no real hook into the film; instead, it just starts and immediately throws facts and dates at you without setting any real groundwork beforehand. If Eastwood's intent was to craft a moving-picture timeline of Hoover's time with the FBI, then he has succeeded entirely; however, that doesn't necessarily make for an entertaining film, and even a biopic should find a way to hook its audience and keep it engaged with the storyline and the characters. Because there's no access point for the audience, there's no real way to stay engaged with the screenplay, and I personally found myself wandering to and from the screen. That's not good for any movie, much less one that should have been a front-runner for awards season.

At the end of the day, J. Edgar is a film that's probably going to bore you, but it'll still manage to nab at least some nominations come time for the Academy Awards. At this point, I'd be shocked if DiCaprio doesn't nab a nomination, but if he wins, I'll be a tad bit surprised. I personally wouldn't put him at the top of my list - I'm currently leaning towards Gosling's brilliant performance in Drive - but perhaps DiCaprio will find a way to bring that golden statue home for the first time in his career. I'll applaud him and be happy for him, but I just think he wouldn't have won it for the right movie. I guess we'll have to wait and see.

Movie Review Summary
Grade: C+
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