I saw dws write something about loving J. Edgar somewhere but I can't seem to find it just now. So I'm sure there's a way to consolidate those who have actually seen the film together...
There is a great scene where J. Edgar is going over the list of applicants with Helen Gandy. She reads off one after another and why they don't fit the profile of what he is looking for. He asks about that fellow, Mr. Tolson. She tells him again what his credentials are, which is to say why he doesn't fit the profile. J. Edgar scowls and looks out the window. Knowing Edgar far too well, she gives him a citation or two from Mr. Tolson's resume that would constitute consideration, and in his reserved Edgar fashion he leaps at the chance to bring him on, even though Helen knows it represents a slight bending of Edgar's principles to get what he really wants. Thus in some fashion, J. Edgar is a screenplay about people who view this funny, fussy little man from afar and have a better grasp on him than he does; and it's about two people very close to him, who see him for the lonely man he is, start off amused by his way, and then come to love him for his dedication.
Clint Eastwood does not direct this film. Dustin Lance Black wrote this film. And so, this is a great disappointment.
I haven't seen Hereafter, so I cannot comment on that film. Clint Eastwood's best films are about vaguely mythic people with clear drives, ambitions, and desires. That's why his best films of the past decade are Million Dollar Baby and Letters from Iwo Jima. His characters in those films state their directives on the page, thus complementing his manner of filming. The characters in Changeling and Mystic River required a steadier hand and some ingenuity in dealing with their more complex motivations, and thus the films coast on evocative imagery and the approximation of drama. I know that Daniel wrote that J. Edgar's imagery of Americana is very strong, and it is. Some of the cinematography is slightly too drab and dark, but it's a powerful looking film. Clint Eastwood is our elder statesman, and doing the interview circle he is routinely asked about what J. Edgar means to him and what he thought about him then versus now. Clint has nothing to say. I don't think that Clint Eastwood is making a movie about that man, I think he's making a movie about this script and it's not an incredibly good one. Dustin Lance Black has written a TON of subtext into this script that is woefully, woefully unexplored. This is a more intricate piece of writing than his screenplay for Milk, which is a much, much better film because there was so much joyous energy in that film. J. Edgar is a humorless film that intermittently works quite well, and is ultimately of interest because Clint can't steamroll all of Black's intelligence.
There are remarkably lazy touches in this film. You can practically hear Clint saying "Yes, yes. That's fine." off-camera. This film has the worst Fake Nixon I have ever seen in my life. Horrible. This Bobby Kennedy is pretty bad too. And while Leonardo DiCaprio's old age makeup initially looks a bit problematic, he quickly begins to melt into the role. Armie Hammer though looks horrible. Just horrible. Like a Madame Toussaud dinosaur. He looks 127 years old and can't emote through it. It is such a painfully bad decision to make him look this way that the blame cannot be shared in any way. It's Clint's fault for seeing Armie walk on-set and not say "What the fuck is this?" I bet the film will still get a makeup nomination and for DiCaprio it probably should. He's quite good in this film, and although I think the film lets him down a bit this is probably his Best "I Need To Learn That I Should Not Be Doing Impersonations Or Accents -- But I Really Want To!" role to date. Howard Hughes remained a distanced figure, but J. Edgar does not. His clipped speech has a sadness to it. And although I think his Old J. Edgar needed a bit more personality, the role isn't a bad fit for one of our most fussy actors. He's probably going to get nominated. Armie Hammer and Naomi Watts just don't have much to do. There's a lot on the page that doesn't really get explored, especially for Naomi Watts. And Hammer has a pretty pathetic screaming fit at DiCaprio in pretty much one of the most pivotal scenes of the film that (coupled with his old age makeup) will likely sink any chance for him to get recognized for this role, a role which is really a perfect fit and could have seen a lot of interesting nuance brought to the table were anybody but Eastwood directing.
I'm guessing nominations for DiCaprio, Art Direction, and Costume Design. Makeup is possible. His Original Score is very lovely but not in the film enough. Nothing more.
"If you are marching with white nationalists, you are by definition not a very nice person. If Malala Yousafzai had taken part in that rally, you'd have to say 'Okay, I guess Malala sucks now.'" ~ John Oliver