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Re: J. Edgar reviews

Posted: Mon Nov 14, 2011 4:53 pm
by dws1982
The Original BJ wrote:dws, I think you're probably the only person on this board surprised to find out how much you liked J. Edgar. :P

I know, I know...but I was kind of expecting something more along the lines of Invictus, a movie that I thought was basically Eastwood-for-hire, even though it had its moments. It's the one Eastwood movie in twenty years that I haven't bought on DVD or Blu-Ray. And I definitely wasn't looking forward to it when I read Dustin Lance Black was writing. (I thought Milk was incredibly overrated, and his screenplay was one of the worst things about it.) But Black's screenplay was very good, and Eastwood was surprisingly doing very interesting, very reflective work, instead of just a job for hire. But I am the guy who thought the same things about Hereafter last year, and put it in my top ten list.

Re: J. Edgar reviews

Posted: Mon Nov 14, 2011 3:28 pm
by The Original BJ
rolotomasi99 wrote: Anyone who bets against Dicapario winning is a fool.

I wanted to wait until I saw the movie until I responded to this, but I find it VERY difficult to argue that DiCaprio has some kind of iron-clad lock on the Best Actor trophy for a film that isn't inspiring much excitement. I'm not even sure he's a certain nominee. Given the festival enthusiasm for The Descendants, The Artist, Shame, and Tinker Tailor Solider Spy, plus the established critical/popular success of Moneyball, I think DiCaprio is, at best, in the running for a nomination against what appears to be a fairly solid group of candidates (performance-wise, as well as career-wise.) I could see Oscar nominating DiCaprio, but in no way do I think he's suddenly become some kind of Jamie Foxx juggernaut.

dws, I think you're probably the only person on this board surprised to find out how much you liked J. Edgar. :P

Re: J. Edgar reviews

Posted: Sun Nov 13, 2011 5:24 pm
by dws1982
It's a very interesting movie, and not necessarily in the ways I had expected. This is as close as we'll ever see Eastwood to Oliver Stone land, and J. Edgar is a lot of fun in the slightly nutty way that Stone can be. It starts out with several vignettes built around the 1919-20 Red Scare--attempted assassination of A. Mitchell Palmer, Palmer Raids, Emma Goldman's deportation--almost like an updated version of The FBI Story, but it uses those things to show Hoover's rise and his creation of the FBI, and more or less abandons the vignette structure. The rest of the flashback sequences center around the Lindbergh Kidnapping Case, and Hoover's attempts to use them in order to enhance his public image, and the FBI's, although as Eastwood and Black would point out, Hoover saw those two things as one and the same. The structure, obviously, references Citizen Kane, but Eastwood definitely references Psycho in his depiction of Hoover's complicated relationship with his mother, and he features scenes from several different Cagney films (with Cagney playing characters on both sides of the law), suggesting that the motives for publicity hounds--whether they're actors or actresses, or whether it's someone like Hoover--are the same. The scenes involving the old Hoover (and I thought the makeup was good, by the way), don't whitewash his hostility towards the Civil Rights movement, even showing Hoover--seemingly getting more and more out of touch--try to come up with a scheme to blackmail MLK into not accepting the Nobel Prize. (No idea if this really happened.)

Dustin Lance Black's screenplay worlds better than his overrated screenplay for Milk. It has the same flashback structure that hurt Milk, but here Black has an ace up his sleeve that makes it a lot more intriguing. One thing the movie doesn't go into much is why Hoover never did much about the mafia. It was rumored that he didn't because they had pictures of him in a dress, but the depiction of Hoover here is as someone who was media-savvy enough to realize that taking on the mafia wasn't suited to the kind of FBI he wanted to publicize--he needed individual public enemies to take down. Black's screenplay also suggests, among other things, that the fact that Hoover was so uncomfortable in his own skin--and socially awkward in personal interactions--was what fueled his constant desire for fame and publicity, and his desire to remake himself as a Great American. Clyde Tolson is depicted as Hoover's opposite--someone who doesn't have much desire for the limelight or for personal fame, but who is a comfortable gay man of his era. It's interesting that one of the first things that happens after Hoover and Tolson meet is that Clyde takes Hoover shopping for some more fashionable clothes. This scene is also where Hoover official remakes himself into the J. Edgar Hoover we all know--before this he's called various names, but after, it's either "Edgar" (by Tolson and his mother), or "Mr. Hoover". While it's the beginning of their relationship--whatever it was--it's also the end. There's no room for a real future with Hoover, especially with all of the pressure Hoover has to be the Great American, and Tolson resigns himself to that eventually. Hammer's performance is very effective at showing that resignation, and it's also a very canny piece of casting, because Hammer has the ideal look. Tolson looked (or at least does here) the part of the Great American--unlike Hoover, you could see that face on a poster--but he lacked Hoover's ironclad ambitions, and (more importantly) lacked Hoover's willingness to totally subjugate his own desires in order to follow it. If anything, Tolson is shown to be a man born in the wrong era, while Hoover is a man of his who probably couldn't have achieved the things he did at another time in history.

There's more to say, but overall I really liked this more than I expected, especially as another Eastwood-ian look at American myth-making.

Re: J. Edgar reviews

Posted: Fri Nov 11, 2011 9:14 pm
by rolotomasi99
Dien wrote:Looks like the film is getting pulled under the water. Rotten Tomatoes currently has J. Edgar at a mixed/negative general score of 41% and 58% from its top critics. Metacritic, on the other hand, has it in slightly better standing at 59.

Now here is something I find something completely surprising. By looking at this film, you would think that critics would adore it and the casual movie-goer wouldn't care too much to even go see it. Based on 10.5k user ratings, J. Edgar has a 78% with the audience. I wonder how well it will do when it expands.

Based off of early Friday reporting from theatres, it looks like J. EDGAR could make around $15 m. That is pretty incredible considering the film is in less than 2,000 theatres and is a biopic about an obscure (at least to the average person) historical figure. The theatre I saw it at was a regular multiplex and it was showing on two screens. I went to the 1:00 pm show because I figured it would be pretty dead on a Friday. However, the room was three quarters full, and it was one of the larger theatres. Just amazing. I thought this film was going to be a hard sell to folks, but apparently grown ups are actually interested in seeing something smart and well made.

Very minor spoilers ahead:
Judging from audience reaction, folks really liked it. They laughed at all of the script's funny lines, and the touching final moment between Hoover and Tolson elicited a few sniffles. It was a very sweet movie, which caught me by surprise. Despite being a big fan, when I heard Clint Eastwood was directing Dustin Lance Black's script I thought it sounded like a bad idea. I did not think Clint was homophobic or anything, but I thought Mr. Tough Guy would not be able to capture the love between two men properly. Well, I admit I was very wrong. I think this movie was even more romantic (in an odd way) then MILK. Sure MILK was sexier, but we never got to see him grow old with anyone. By the end of the film, people had really responded to the enduring love we saw between Hoover and Tolson.

Hoover was an amazing person who served under 6 presidents as the head of the FBI. There is no way one movie could have ever fully told his life. I appreciated the focus the film kept on Hoover's insistence on modernizing police work and employing science in solving crimes. I would have loved to have seen more about his relationship with all 6 presidents, but then the movie would have been more than three hours long.

I also appreciated how his relationship with Tolson was portrayed. I believe they had sex, but there is no way to prove it. However, there can be no doubt to anyone how much they loved each other, and the film did an excellent job of depicting that. Of course, Leo Dicaprio deserves all the praise in the world for his excellent performance, but hopefully people will also recognize what a wonderful job Armie Hammer did. It was such a switch from the swaggering Winklevoss twins. Naomi Watts and Judi Dench mostly stayed in the background, but they each had strong moments. Watts' final conversation with Hoover showed how strong their relationship was, and Dench's daffodil speech really helped you understand why he could never be honest about who he was -- even to himself.

I have no fucking clue why some critics do not like it, but thankfully the "cream of the crop" have a better opinion about movies that set out to tell an interesting story well. Clint has a very distinct directing style. Some might call it old fashioned, some might call it slow, but I think it is ridiculous to expect something with quick-cuts and shaky cameras. He will never make a movie like that. Even his more action packed films like UNFORGIVEN, FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS, and LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA moved at a slower pace than what most are used to. Dustin Lance Black once again helps us understand someone who we know more now as a piece of history than as a person. I also appreciate the bits of levity he likes to throw into his scripts.

As for Oscar prospects, I think Dicaprio is in the lead right now for the win. I am certainly not calling him a lock, but on paper he definitely has many things in his favor. From 2002 to now, Dicaprio has given great performances in a variety of excellent films. Right after TITANIC it looked like he was going to embrace his teen heart throb persona, but I think he tired of that quickly. He then started working with great directors like Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, Ridley Scott, and Christopher Nolan. He has accumulated a great deal of respect from his peers as well as kept out of trouble. He is a nice guy who not only deserves an Oscar, but one people actually want to reward. I do not think anyone should win an Oscar because they are "due," but it seems that happens with the Academy. Winslet won a few years ago, and now it seems like it is Dicaprio's turn. It certainly helps that he gave an amazing performance. Also, he meets certain Oscar bait criteria: a young and attractive star playing old and ugly; playing a historical figure; and playing gay. Anyone who bets against Dicapario winning is a fool.

Other nominations will most likely include Set, Costume, Cinematography, and Make-up. If the Academy really likes the film, Armie Hammer could find himself nominated along with the screenplay. With 7 nominations, Best Picture is very possible with more than five nominees. Also, do not count out Clint receiving a nomination as well.

Re: J. Edgar reviews

Posted: Fri Nov 11, 2011 2:08 pm
by Dien
Looks like the film is getting pulled under the water. Rotten Tomatoes currently has J. Edgar at a mixed/negative general score of 41% and 58% from its top critics. Metacritic, on the other hand, has it in slightly better standing at 59.

Now here is something I find something completely surprising. By looking at this film, you would think that critics would adore it and the casual movie-goer wouldn't care too much to even go see it. Based on 10.5k user ratings, J. Edgar has a 78% with the audience. I wonder how well it will do when it expands.

Re: J. Edgar reviews

Posted: Wed Nov 09, 2011 5:46 pm
by Sabin
Owen Gleiberman likes it.

Leonardo DiCaprio has given many fine performances, but he has often seemed trapped in a certain preternatural matinee-idol youthfulness. Whether in a brooding period piece like Gangs of New York or a pop head-game like Inception, he inevitably comes off as lean and lithe and eager, with that movie-star-as-lion-cub face. I thought that quality really hampered him in The Aviator, where he lacked even a trace of Howard Hughes' rugged gravitas; he seemed like a boy playing a man. So I was skeptical of how well he would do in the role of that stocky, ruthless bulldog J. Edgar Hoover, the most famous director — in many ways, the inventor — of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. But in Clint Eastwood's emotionally reticent yet absorbing J. Edgar, DiCaprio does more than disappear behind steely glasses and prosthetic old-age makeup. He transforms himself, in a feat of acting, from the inside out.

The first thing you notice about DiCaprio's John Edgar Hoover is that he speaks in one of those jarringly proper early-20th-century Brahmin accents. It takes a bit of getting used to, but DiCaprio makes the dialect work, and it keys us to Hoover's rather rigid interior life. Even when he's young, Edgar, as he's known to those closest to him, is starchy and furrowed, with eyebrows scrunched down low (he looks a bit like the Dick Tracy villain Flattop). DiCaprio gives him a gleam of suspicion and a stately, formal body language that will harden, over time, into a combative waddle. Written by Dustin Lance Black (Milk), the movie cuts back and forth between the '20s and '30s, when Hoover built the FBI and planted it in the popular imagination, and the early '60s, when his methods began to congeal into something paranoid and deluded. The crosscutting, frankly, is a bit much; the film never quite finds a present tense. Yet Black's script is densely detailed and fascinating. Eastwood, forsaking his deliberate rhythms for something speedier and wordier, turns J. Edgar into a dramatic essay about how the law and repression, heroism and corruption, fused in Hoover.

It's in 1919 that a 24-year-old Hoover first glimpses what he sees as the basic threat to American life: bomb-planting Communist agitators. As the film presents it, he may be right about the dangers of anarchy. But the subversives he's driven to crack down on also offend something fundamental in his nature. He's not just devoted to law and order. He craves control. From the outset, he has an epic plan: to make the methods of Sherlock Holmes bureaucratic. He collects forensic evidence (at this point, the authorities throw away the majority of crime-scene clues), hiring oddball experts like a man who knows everything about grains of wood. And he dreams of a centralized database devoted to the bold new science of fingerprinting.

He's inventing modern law enforcement, and he has triumphs, like hunting down the kidnapper of Charles Lindbergh's baby. Yet there's a hidden madness to Hoover's method. He still lives with his mother (Judi Dench), and his devotion to her has a touch of Norman Bates. On a date with the comely Helen Gandy (Naomi Watts), he shows off the card-catalog system he created for the Library of Congress. Is it any wonder that she becomes not his lover but his secretary? And when Hoover interviews a strapping prospective agent named Clyde Tolson, sweat trembles on his upper lip. He may be trying to rein in more than Communism.

The closest the movie comes to having an emotional center is Hoover's relationship with Tolson (played with soft sympathy by The Social Network's Armie Hammer), who becomes his friend, right-hand man, and dinner companion. As the film presents it, the two experience a love that can't be acted upon, that can't even speak its name. That's Hoover's tragedy — but it is also, in J. Edgar, his pathology. His obsession with secrecy, with using illegal wiretaps to keep private files on politicians (like JFK) for the implicit threat of blackmailing them, emerges out of his hidden sense of shame. Over time, Hoover's enemies shift: from the lefties of the '20s to the gangsters of the '30s and, finally, to the social-protest leaders of the '60s like Martin Luther King Jr., whom he sees as an enemy of the state. Hoover never changes. Instead, he blinds himself to how America changes. Yet his angry paranoia isn't exactly something that you can identify with. I was held by J. Edgar, but it's a movie — like the man at its center — with a buried heart. B

Re: J. Edgar reviews

Posted: Sun Nov 06, 2011 5:28 pm
by Dien
J. Edgar currently sits at an ambiguous 50% on Rotten Tomatoes. It can go either way as the reviews start pouring in and we've seen lower scores get a top five nomination. (I was going to reference The Reader here but it seems that score has been bumped up from the 40-something that I remember to a 62... strange).

Re: J. Edgar reviews

Posted: Sat Nov 05, 2011 2:15 pm
by Sabin
Jeffrey Wells on J. Edgar.

Clint Eastwood is a signature filmmaker, an auteurist. His movies have a tone, a vibe and a stamp that say "take it or leave it, but this is a Clint film." They've all delivered a feeling of wholeness and completion, certainly by Eastwood standards. The problem for some (many?) of us is that post-Million Dollar Baby and with the exception of Gran Torino his films have begun to feel a little too meditative, longish, labored and languid. And what's with the frequently desaturated color?

Letters From Iwo Jima was eloquent and affecting, but Flags of Our Fathers was a slog, The Changeling became the basis for a drinking game, and Invictus and Hereafter were shortfallers. And now comes J. Edgar, which I saw last night.

It's an Eastwood film, all right. And it's not bad for what it is. No, better than not bad. It's Clint's version of Brokeback Mountain, in a sense, and is finely performed and professionally assembled, etc. Dustin Lance Black's script certainly covers the bases, and J. Edgar is actually a fairly radical film for a guy of Eastwood's age and history and conservative philosophy. If J. Edgar Hoover is still floating or swirling around on some ectoplasmic level and he has a chance to see Eastwood's film when it opens, he's going to be one pissed-off ghost.

But for all the things it does right and despite that feeling of rock-bottom assurance that an Eastwood film always provides, J. Edgar is a moderately boring film, at times punishingly so.

Mostly because it's a profound drag to spend time with such a sad, clenched and closeted tight-ass. Hoover, the founder and ruler of the FBI for 37 years, was such a guarded and snarly little shit, and truly reprehensible in his attitude toward and relations with Martin Luther King, and a coward to boot. And when you mesh this guy with that languid highly relaxed Eastwood pacing and that desaturated color scheme (again!) the film begins to feel like it's slowly draining the life out of you. It desaturates your soul.

And after a half-hour or so I began to say to myself, "This isn't a bad film...better than I thought it would be...Clint knows what he's doing...and it's true about Leonardo DiCaprio's performance being highly focused and exacting and possibly award-worthy (maybe), but...let's see, 136 minutes long, another 100 to go...I have to be honest and admit that I'm not looking forward to sitting through the rest of this. Although I don't want to miss Armie Hammer's big emotional blowout scene (i.e, seeing red after Leo mentions the possibility of his marrying Dorothy Lamour and then wrestling with him on the floor and kissing him) or the moment when a distraught Leo puts on his mother's dress and pearls after she dies."

J. Edgar is an earnestly conceived and well-made film, and one that delivers the goods by the end (i.e., making the case that Hoover's life was all about acquiring and keeping power, and that this power was used for dubious motives in many instances, and that the man himself was a tragic if not a pathetic figure). But it's a bit of an endurance test, and the under-40s, I suspect, are going to stay away in droves.

The old-age makeup looks like old-age makeup, but for whatever reason I got used to Leo's old-Hoover appearance, and it wasn't that much of a problem. But I couldn't figure what his Hoover accent was about. I only know that I kept saying to myself, "He sounds like an actor using a strange accent." And Hammer's old-Tolson seems a bit too leathery and liver-spotted, like some ghostly figure out of a Roger Corman film. Judi Dench's performance as Ma Hoover and Naomi Watts' as Helen Gandy, the FBI director's longtime secretary, are steady and true.

I want to see Larry Cohen's The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover again.

Re: J. Edgar reviews

Posted: Sat Nov 05, 2011 4:59 am
by Big Magilla
One other category The Tree of Life could score a nod in is Art Direction. Jack Fisk, Sissy Spacek's husband, who designed both that and Water for Elephants this year, and whose relationship with Malick goes back to the 70s, has surpringingly had only one Oscar nomination in his entire career and that was for There Will Be Blood. Fisk, who grew up with David Lyncch was also responsible for the production desgins of Badlands; Carrie; Days of Heaven; Movie Movie; The Tihn Red Line; The Straight Story and Mulholland Dr.

Re: J. Edgar reviews

Posted: Sat Nov 05, 2011 3:39 am
by Sabin
Greg wrote
Do you think this might actually enable The Tree Of Life to win Best Picture? Despite its detractors, it appears it might be the only film this year with passionate supporters.

Dude, no way. The Tree of Life might get nominated for Most Prettiest Film/Best Cinematography, and there's a chance it could win. But The Tree of Life at best will grab a cinematography nod/win and maaaaaaybe Best Director. But the way that the Director's Branch is skewing from the visionary to the prolific and competent, I'm very doubtful about that.

Re: J. Edgar reviews

Posted: Fri Nov 04, 2011 8:22 pm
by Big Magilla
Greg wrote:
Sabin wrote:Then we started talking about its Oscar shots, and we both agreed who knows this year? There really aren't a bevy of films out there vying and there are even fewer lead actors who seem poised to make it in.

Do you think this might actually enable The Tree Of Life to win Best Picture? Despite its detractors, it appears it might be the only film this year with passionate supporters.

First of all, J. Edgar was never a front-runner, although it was on most people's list as an also-ran. The front-runners remain War Horse; The Descendants and The Atist with The Help apparently the ouside popular choice. The Tree of Life could make it on a list of nine or ten nominees, but at this point no one knwos whether there will be 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 or 10 nominees.

Re: J. Edgar reviews

Posted: Fri Nov 04, 2011 4:36 pm
by Greg
Sabin wrote:Then we started talking about its Oscar shots, and we both agreed who knows this year? There really aren't a bevy of films out there vying and there are even fewer lead actors who seem poised to make it in.

Do you think this might actually enable The Tree Of Life to win Best Picture? Despite its detractors, it appears it might be the only film this year with passionate supporters.

Re: J. Edgar reviews

Posted: Fri Nov 04, 2011 3:30 pm
by Sabin
My friend A.A. Dowd (the head film critic for Time Out Chicago) says it's pretty bad. His relationship with Clint is pretty hit or miss. He loves Million Dollar Baby and thinks it's maybe the best Oscar winner of the decade, likes Letters from Iwo Jima and Changeling, and doesn't like Mystic River, Flags of Our Fathers, Gran Torino, Invictus, or Hereafter. He described it to me last night as resembling bad theater where a bunch of actors put on clothes are march about delivering monologues, and that figures from history are lazy caricatures. Bobby Kennedy may as well be Quimby. He says that Leonardo DiCaprio is very fussy and mannered, and his old age makeup isn't bad but it never allows him to create an entire character. The film moves a little too quickly for Armie Hammer, Naomi Watts, or Judi Dench to have much to do.

He says of the gay angle that the film doesn't really have time for it but it is in there and it's inoffensive, that there is almost a degree of charm to Clint tackling a gay romance in this way (with post-Brokeback longing and regret).

Then we started talking about its Oscar shots, and we both agreed who knows this year? There really aren't a bevy of films out there vying and there are even fewer lead actors who seem poised to make it in. He says it's the kind of film that will start off strong with Golden Globe nominations, but it's not going to appeal to audiences, probably flop, and ultimately stiff come Oscar time.

Re: J. Edgar reviews

Posted: Fri Nov 04, 2011 8:48 am
by Sonic Youth
I thought the previews and TV commercials for "J. Edgar" made it look even more unwatchable than those for "War Horse", but I'm open to being proven wrong.

What's interesting about the Hollywood Reporter review is that it was written by Todd McCarthy, formerly of Variety. For years, McCarthy has been a huge Clint booster and he could always be counted on for a rave review, and if it wasn't a rave, then it was at least as good a review as the movie was going to get. Nearly always, the reviewer at Hollywood Reporter would match his accolades, and since these were always among the first reviews, the pattern as of late would evolve from 'Clint has made another very fine movie' to 'there appears to be a disconnect between the print reviews and the online reviews' to 'It looks like this won't be a contender after all'. But now McCarthy's at HR, and - as I suspected - the film is not charging out of the gate so strongly, because the other trade reviews, although interesting, aren't so hot.


J. Edgar
By Peter Debruge

J. Edgar Hoover's mystique lies in the fact that while he kept meticulous files with compromising details on some of America's most powerful figures, nobody knew the man's own secrets. Therefore, any movie in which the longtime FBI honcho features as the central character must supply some insight into what made him tick, or suffer from the reality that the Bureau's exploits were far more interesting than the bureaucrat who ran it -- a dilemma "J. Edgar" never rises above. With Leonardo DiCaprio bringing empathy to the controversial Washington power-monger, Clint Eastwood's old-school biopic should do solid midrange business.

In 1993, Anthony Summers published a tawdry expose titled "Official and Confidential, the Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover," which aired Susan Rosenstiel's claim that she had witnessed Hoover, a lifelong bachelor who was seldom seen without trusted deputy Clyde Tolson, wearing a cocktail dress at a gay orgy in New York. Though never corroborated, the claim stuck, and the legacy of this much-feared public figure -- who served as FBI director under eight presidents, across 48 years and through some of the most trying cases of the 20th century -- is now dominated by associations with cross-dressing.

If the assumptions about his sex life are true, that would make "J. Edgar" the story of the highest-ranking homosexual in American history, produced by a major Hollywood studio and directed by one of the industry's most venerable directors -- hardly insignificant in an industry that goes to great lengths to obfuscate the sexuality of its own stars. While not exactly coy, Eastwood's classically styled look at Hoover's life takes a long time to arrive at questions of the character's proclivities. When it does get there, however, this new dimension of the character so enlivens what has been a mostly dry portrayal of one man's crusade to reform law enforcement that it becomes the pic's focus.

True to Eastwood's understated nature, "J. Edgar" offers the "tasteful" treatment of such potentially salacious subject matter, though a more outre Oliver Stone-like approach might have made for a livelier film. With the exception of a few profanities (enough to land the pic an audience-limiting R rating) and a lone homoerotic wrestling scene so tame that Ken Russell's "Women in Love" feels like an X by comparison, the film could pass for something Warners would have released in an earlier era -- earlier even than many of the events depicted onscreen, as suggested by Tom Stern's cinematography, desaturated nearly to black-and-white.

Eastwood's restraint applies to not only the kid-gloves depiction of how Hoover slyly manipulated politicos and press, including a loathsome attempt to blackmail Martin Luther King Jr. into declining the Nobel Peace Prize, but also to his oddly nonjudgmental approach to Hoover's sexual identity, depicting him as a man too Puritanical to pursue intimacy with someone of either gender.

As he did with "Milk," screenwriter Dustin Lance Black follows the print-the-legend philosophy, building to what could have been the ultimate tragic love story between two men: Johnny and Clyde (as Truman Capote dubbed Hoover and Tolson), companions for the better part of five decades who never had the chance to express their affection -- a consequence of Hoover's insistence that FBI employees live up to the strictest code of conduct (he wouldn't even allow them to drink coffee on the job).

The opening reel establishes both the scope of the story, which ranges from Hoover's 20s to his final days overseeing the FBI at age 77, and DiCaprio's remarkable ability to play the character at any point along that timeline. Aided by a convincing combination of facial appliances, makeup and wigs, the thesp draws auds past that gimmick and into the character within a matter of a few scenes. There's an innate kindliness to DiCaprio that makes for a more likable protagonist than Hoover as the tempestuous monster so many biographers describe, which is good news for the film's commercial prospects but seemingly at odds with reality.

Surely this can't be the glory hound who collaborated with Sen. Joseph McCarthy on his anti-communist witch hunt and called King "the most notorious liar in the country," nor the same FBI chief accused of racism (the Bureau antagonized civil-rights leaders and employed few blacks), homophobia (gays were dismissed from service) and sexism (women were allowed to serve as secretaries and assistants, but never agents).

Rather than seriously engaging with any of these common accusations, Black's script skips back and forth through Hoover's CV, alternating public grandstanding with invented insights into his private life. Annie Hoover (Judi Dench) exerts enormous control over her son's personality, telling him, "I'd rather have a dead son than a daffodil for a son," in the film's most chilling scene. Tolson (Armie Hammer), whose prissiness accounts for the film's scant laughs, also surfaces early, lurking behind the frosted-glass door to an adjoining office while Hoover dictates a self-aggrandizing book.

Considering how critical any other character's perspective might be, allowing Hoover to narrate his own story comes as a generous gift from Black. Hoover's voiceover gives form to a story that starts out as an institutionally approved version of how the FBI came to be, punctuated every so often by a high-profile arrest or newfangled forensic development (an investigation into the kidnapping of Charles Lindbergh's son supplies the sort of procedural intrigue that comes comfortably to Eastwood). As the pic progresses, however, Hoover's words grow increasingly defensive, and the episodes drift into far more personal territory.

Since you can't put a face on the love interest in a workaholic's story, Black must manufacture romance on the margins. In the first act, Hoover briefly courts Helen Gandy (Naomi Watts), an office girl who declines his marriage proposal on their third date, but agrees to become his secretary. A short time later, Hoover meets Tolson in a scene staged to suggest love at first sight.

As written, Tolson's character is clearly gay, but Eastwood seems noncommittal about Hoover. Certainly there are clues in nearly every aspect of the production, from Deborah Hopper's ever-dapper wardrobe to the meticulously appointed sets overseen by James Murakami and decorated by Gary Fettis. At one point, auds catch a glimpse of the entry stairwell to Hoover's home, where a framed portrait of his mother hangs alone. What's missing from this picture? Why, the famous nude photo of Marilyn Monroe that hung in the real-life Hoover's hallway.


J. Edgar
4 November, 2011 | By Mike Goodridge

Dir: Clint Eastwood. US. 2011. 137mins

Clint Eastwood’s latest film, a portrait of the controversial FBI founder and chieftain J Edgar Hoover, is both admirable and frustrating, a murky muddle of selective historical moments which comes alive when its compelling human story of sexual repression and dedicated love is at the forefront. Its biggest achievement is to look at recent US history through a personal and distinctively gay lens. In fact, Eastwood delivers the most un-self-conscious depiction of a gay relationship in a mainstream studio movie to date, although gay rights activists will hardly be looking to promote J Edgar Hoover as any sort of role model.

Box office prospects are solid. The combined megawattage of Eastwood and his star Leonardo DiCaprio giving a bravura performance that will inevitably win him an Oscar nomination should make it a must-see movie for an older adult crowd, especially in the US. International prospects are less exciting, bearing in mind the distinctly Americo-centricity of the character and the story.

As scripted by Dustin Lance Black, the gay writer who won an Oscar for Milk, J Edgar is very much a look at the man raised by a devoted but domineering mother who struggles with his homosexuality, yet finds a loyal partner in Clyde Tolson, a young buck he nurtures as his closest colleague and lover.

Yes, we also see Hoover as crime-fighting pioneer, PR genius and manipulator, as fame-hungry tyrant and reinventor of history. But the script doesn’t delve too deeply into the darker side of Hoover, who essentially engineered the ugly McCarthy witchhunts and rewrote the rules in surveillance and invasion of privacy.

No, the script requires Hoover to be damaged, somewhat human and not utterly odious. He has to be engaging enough to command the unwavering loyalty of Tolson (played with superb sensitivity by Armie Hammer) and secretary Helen Gandy (Naomi Watts), and, after all, it was his passion for the evolution of forensic science and identification by fingerprinting which changed the face of law enforcement forever.

The film sketches his early life starting in the Bureau Of Investigation in 1919, being named its director in 1924 and then forming the Federal Bureau Of Investigation in 1935 where he reigned through eight presidencies to his death in 1972.

It covers his battles in the thirties with the Depression-era gangsters with the likes of John Dillinger and Machine Gun Kelly, his passionate and violent suppression of communists and radicals, and dwells in particular on the kidnapping and murder of Charles Lindbergh’s son in 1932 and the arrest four years later, after an exhaustive investigation, of Bruno Hauptmann.

Throughout these episodes, it skips forward 30 years to the 1960s – to Hoover’s relationship with the Kennedys, his contempt for Martin Luther King and the arrival on the picture of Richard Nixon before whose downfall he dies. One of the biggest hurdles for audiences in these extensive sequences is the use of heavy prosthetic makeup on DiCaprio, Hammer and Watts. The makeup may be excellent, but the audience awareness of the illusion can be distracting.

The film’s first hour is problematic and somewhat turgid. Eastwood and his cinematographer Tom Stern decided to shoot in grim desaturated colours and make use of heavy shadows, which hardly helps a muddy narrative that takes a while to cohere.

But in the second hour, Eastwood does what he does so well which is to focus on the characters. The scenes stretch longer and there are some exceptional moments – when Hoover’s mother (Dench) tells him that she would not accept a gay son (“a daffodil”), when Hoover tells Tolson that he plans to marry film star Dorothy Lamour, when Tolson tells Hoover that he should resign with his legacy intact, when Hoover breaks down after his mother’s death and when Tolson arrives at Hoover’s house when he has died.

Indeed, as always, when Eastwood turns his compassionate eye onto the frailties and emotions of his characters, the film flies and reminds us why he remains one of the world’s most vital filmmakers. It’s hard not to tear up when Tolson sobs over Hoover’s body, but Eastwood isn’t making us cry about Hoover in particular. Ever the humanist, he is merely showing one man crying for the loss of his lifelong love.

J. Edgar reviews and fall-out

Posted: Fri Nov 04, 2011 12:56 am
by Mister Tee
Hollywood Reporter

J. Edgar: Film Review
10:00 PM PDT 11/3/2011 by Todd McCarthy

The Bottom Line
A surprising collaboration that tackles its trickiest challenges with plausibility and good sense, while serving up a simmeringly caustic view of its controversial subject's behavior, public and private.

Leonardo DiCaprio, Naomi Watts, Judi Dench, Armie Hammer

Clint Eastwood

Dustin Lance Black

Written by Dustin Lance Black, the Warner Bros. film features Armie Hammer, Judi Dench and Naomi Watts as the historic FBI Boss' closest companions.

Arcing across a tumultuous half-century of American history while conjuring intimate glimpses of a high-profile public figure who hid his own secrets as well as he collected those of others, J. Edgar is a mightily ambitious work that provokes a host of assorted reactions: Simultaneous fascination and revulsion for the autocratic longtime head of the FBI, pity for someone so incapable of coming to terms with his true nature, grudging respect for his professional skills outweighed by disdain for his tactics and prejudices, admiration for how deftly the filmmakers have treated the conjectural aspects of the most intimate scenes and impatience with the script's tendency to tell rather than show.

This surprising collaboration between director Clint Eastwood and Milk screenwriter Dustin Lance Black tackles its trickiest challenges with plausibility and good sense, while serving up a simmeringly caustic view of its controversial subject's behavior, public and private. Big-name talent behind and in front of the camera, led by a committed performance by Leonardo DiCaprio in the title role, assures extensive media attention and public curiosity up to a point. But Warner Bros.' faces a significant commercial challenge in stirring the interest of younger audiences likely to regard J. Edgar Hoover as an irrelevant artifact of the bad old days or, most reductively, a hypocritical closet case.

These days, agenda counts for so much to so many, and the pressing, if not only, point of interest for some constituencies will be to see how far the film goes in ascribing all manner of nefarious and/or hypocritical behavior to this most public symbol of moral rectitude, patriotic thinking and law abidance; for some, nothing short of an unrestrained evisceration will do. But pulling Hoover's pants down and sticking him on a skewer 39 years after his death would not be Eastwood's way. Rather, to this complex drama he applies the same sort of measured intelligence he has brought to bear on any number of his films to assess and analyze the unjust application of justice, the suitable response to violence or its threat and the temptation for an individual to flaunt the rules and either take the law into one's own hands or bend it to suit one's own purposes. Eastwood has often gravitated toward characters inclined to extreme unilateral behavior and Hoover's ability to run the FBI has his personal fiefdom for nearly half a century indisputably qualifies him as a prime example of such a figure.

Unfortunately, Hoover led a life so narrow and unchanging, both emotionally and ideologically, as to prevent screenwriter Black from making him a character available to dramatic revelation. His stature notwithstanding, Hoover can't even be considered an alluringly complicated anti-hero along the lines of Charles Foster Kane, to reference a film with which J. Edgar shares some unmissable structural, historical and tempermental parallels. A bulldog who more closely resembled a pug, Hoover can be credited with many innovations in law enforcement. But he was also a vengeful, suspicious, racist egomaniac, a man who kept his grip on power by getting the goods on anyone, especially presidents, who might try to bring him down.

He was also a fastidious, self-righteous public tough guy who lived with his mother until she died and may or may not have been intimately involved with his longtime partner and professional second-in-command, Clyde Tolson, portrayed here in excellent, if rather glamorized fashion, by Armie Hammer. The truth about the domestic relationship is probably forever unknowable, but the way the homoerotic undertones and impulses are handled is one of the best things about the film; the emotional dynamics, given all the social and political factors at play, feel entirely credible, and the DiCaprio and Hammer excel during the exchanges of innuendo, covert desire, recriminations and mutual understanding.

Built around a core of the old Hoover dictating a memoir to a series of noticeably good-looking, well-groomed young men, the script hopscotches throughout history to focus on key episodes in the man's life that either significantly shaped his world view or played a role in the development of the FBI: Post-World War I radical violence that forged his anti-communism and his lifelong obsession with domestic threats; the Lindbergh baby kidnapping and murder case, which he used to strengthen the bureau and sharply extend its reach; his self-glorifying efforts to put himself in the front line battling famous Depression-era gangsters, and his determination to obtain trump cards on perceived adversaries such as FDR, JFK and Martin Luther King Jr. in the form of incriminating sexual documents and recordings.

Layered through the historical pageant is a personal life notable for its self-repression and timidity. A mama's boy whose mother (Judi Dench) comes off like a rancid version of a controlling Tennessee Williams matriarch, the young Hoover is once seen taking the attractive Helen Gandy (Naomi Watts) on a weird date in the Library of Congress, where he shows off his advanced cataloguing skills. When his romantic advances are rebuffed, he recoups by offering her a job as his personal secretary, a highly confidential position she crucially maintains until after his death, when she (as shown here) shreds her boss's private files before Nixon's goons arrive to seize them.

Other than an affair Hoover claims with actress Dorothy Lamour, there are no other known women. But there was Clyde Tolson, an undistinguished but, at least as represented by Hammer, very tall and handsome candidate for an agency job who quickly becomes the boss's regular dinner partner and number two man. Sharing a hotel suite for the races at Del Mar powerfully brings their relationship to the brink, after which they reach an understanding. The upshot is that very few people are as famous for the sex they probably didn't have as other people are for the sex they actually did have.

As drama, J. Edgar gets off to a bit of a choppy start as it rapidly introduces a host of names and characters it's hard to keep track of while bouncing from 1919 to the 1960s and back again, with Hoover's voiceover attempting to clarify what's going on. DiCaprio's changing looks across the decades also takes some getting used to; while his old-age makeup seems jarring at first, one gradually looks beyond it, and the actor is actually most effective in the middle and late-age scenes. Hoover's manner of speaking is unusual in itself; it's carefully enunciated with an aggressive drive and no identifiable regional affiliation, evidently all carefully cultivated to compensate for early stuttering. He also has dark, soulless mahogany eyes and a chunky body some praise as “solid.”

DiCaprio projects this odd authority figure with energetic earnestness, a strong grip on the man's mindset and purpose, and an attentiveness to Hoover's power to prevail over others in matters big and small. It's a vigorous, capable performance, one that carries the film and breathes new life into the old tradition of plain real folk achieving retroactive allure by being played by attractive stars. But the characterization remains external, one of solid technique blocked from going deep because Hoover remains a fixed figure closed to taking a personal journey.

Hammer plays Tolson as a bland fashion-plate who enjoys raising an eyebrow and making the occasional suggestive comment; in less constrained circumstances, Hammer slyly implies, this could have been one fun guy. Watts has little opportunity to express much beyond dogged loyalty and Dench is similarly limited in her portrait of a severe mother hen. A host of actors come and go impersonating, with various levels of credibility, such famous figures as Charles Lindbergh, Emma Goldman, Mitchell Palmer, Robert Kennedy, Bruno Hauptmann, Richard Nixon (the only president depicted) and Ginger and Lela Rogers.

The various time periods are well represented in James J. Murakami's production design and Deborah Hopper's costumes, while cinematographer Tom Stern has elegantly desaturated the visuals in predominantly blue tones. Once again, Eastwood has composed his own score, but this time out his spare and restrained piano backing feels insufficient to the task at hand, as the picture could have been helpfully propelled by a vigorous, full-bodied, old-school Hollywood score.