The best thing about Clint Eastwood’s J. Edgar is Leonardo DiCaprio’s subtle and intuitive performance as J. Edgar Hoover. That is not to say that there aren’t other interesting aspects to the movie. The costuming is superb and the set is superb and a testament to the skill of designer Rich Andrade (Inception). The sound work is also very good considering the span of the movie: seven decades. All in all J. Edgar is a very watchable movie. The long and the short of it is that it would not make it into my permanent collection for a number of other reasons.
With the possible exception of Naomi Watts who, like DiCaprio, had to labour under passable makeup work the rest of the cast is competent but uninspiring. What ultimately eliminates it from consideration for permanent status is simply that the movie itself leaves you flat. While DiCaprio does an exceptional job portraying a man who is reserved in the extreme, demanding and unrepentantly monomaniacal in his founding and stewardship of the F.B.I. Hoover himself just is not that interesting a person. It is in fact that nuanced performance by DiCaprio that is so exceptional. Portraying a man completely lacking in charisma in a believable way is a stunning feat.
Written by Dustin Lance Black (Milk) the script seems as if it is likely an accurate portrayal of the players involved but accuracy and even truth do not necessarily make for an interesting story. The direction by Eastwood is as steady as he ever is but as uninspired as it was in his previous outing Hereafter. Eastwood has a history of delivering decent movies but the direction is not always the long suit and it is lacking here. Though reflective of his body of work which focuses on those who have a singular passion in life it is not enough this time around.
J. Edgar will be a good movie for a high school class to watch to get an historical perspective on the FBI and its foundation. It is a watchable movie and worth the viewing just for DiCaprio’s performance but that is really all you can say about it to recommend it.