Jumping onto the Oscar bandwagon, J. Edgar is a surprisingly dull and crawling Biopic on a fascinating subject. This is mainly due to the ill judged decision to have Eastwood direct, but also the very dry performances from nearly everyone involved minus DiCaprio.
This Biopic tells the story on one of the most important Americans of the 20th century; J. Edgar Hoover (Leonardo DiCaprio), the man responsible for forming the FBI. The narrative is split into two halves. Partly in the 1960’s where J. Edgar narrates his life story to a writer, and the other in the past where we see his life story play out. This drama has several strong points. Seeing how the FBI was developed and how they tackled crimes such as the Lindbergh kidnapping are genuinely absorbing, as we see the cases unravel. Similarly J. Edgar’s relationship with Clyde Tolson is handled gracefully, and their confrontations are the most memorable scenes.
DiCaprio is well cast as the main man himself, bringing a strength and subtle vulnerability which is needed for such a conflicted role. His performance is very honest, being able to portray a faulted character without making him wholly unlikable. Armie Hammer is also brilliant as Clyde Tolson, having strong onscreen chemistry with DiCaprio and perfectly matching his portrayal of Hoover. However his performance as ‘60s’ Tolson is tainted by poor makeup which is hard to see beyond. Whilst the rest of the cast seem to be aged gently, Hammer seemed to look more like a decomposing Thunderbird’s doll than an actual person which certainly distracts from his later scenes.
Despite DiCaprio and Hammer’s performances, everyone else around him seems to be sleepwalking through their roles. Naomi Watts seems wasted as Hoover’s PA Helen Gandy, never muttering more than a few monotonous sentences at a time. Similarly the relationship between J. Edgar and his mother (Dame Judi Dench) is never really given enough screen time. Instead more of the plot focuses on the inauguration of Nixon which is far less interesting than DiCaprio’s earlier life, and in this way the script seems ill judged. Eastwood is a strange choice as Director for the story of J. Edgar and he seems to over sentimentalise the story on many occasions while barely touching upon more prominent topics such as J. Edgar’s closeted homosexuality and transvestism.
Overall despite having numerous redeeming features, J. Edgar is a missed opportunity to explore the personal life of such an interesting public figure. DiCaprio’s moving performance is not enough to distract from the cumbersome plot but should definitely get him a well deserved nomination.