Clint Eastwood has morphed from being an action director and a man’s man to the leading purveyor of Oscar bait. It seems now that every year Eastwood has a new film that designed to provoke the Academy voters into rewarding him yet again. And for 2011’s J. Edgar, he assembled an Oscar super group. Working with Brian Grazer as his producer, Oscar winner Dustin Lance Black as his writer, and stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Naomi Watts, Armie Hammer and Judi Dench, you’ve got an all-star team that screams Oscar gold. They assembled to make a bio-pic of J. Edgar Hoover, but created one of Eastwood’s worst films. Our review of the Blu-ray of J. Edgar follows after the jump.
DiCaprio plays J. Edgar from a junior G-Man up until his death (with some awkward old age make up) as the director of the FBI. The film lays out the narrative through a dictation of his autobiography so that way it can jump time periods. It shows him as a boy seeing what amounts to terrorist attacks on the capital by communists, and his clinging relationship with his mother (Dench). He meets Helen Gandy (Watts) and takes her out for a date, but when she declines his advances, she moves into to being his lifelong secretary and their sexual tensions never come up again – Watts then spends the rest of the film with little to do. Hoover comes to prominence over some events, specifically the Lindbergh baby kidnapping where Hoover used more scientific methods to find out what happened. He also then creates a national network so criminals can be tracked from state to state – methods that revolutionized crime fighting.
Hoover was in love with Hollywood, so he put pressure on the studios to make more films about cops than robbers, and would sometimes romance famous women. The film also shows Hoover’s slide into irrelevance as he monitors Martin Luther King, and doesn’t pursue organized crime like the Kennedys request of him. But the film gives some credence to the rumors that Hoover was gay by highlighting his lifelong friendship with Clyde Tolson (Hammer), and the film has a scene or two that spells out how far the filmmakers think Hoover went.
And therein lay one of the biggest problems with the movie. There’s a scene in the middle where Tolson and Hoover fight about the women Hoover goes out with, and then it turns physical. It’s a scene that makes explicit what the film has already implied (that the two may have had a physical relationship) but adds nothing to the story by giving a non-answer. It suggests Hoover could never bring himself to have sex with a man. But Hoover’s possible sexual constipation doesn’t really add to the narrative, though Hoover is shown using sexual infidelity to remain in control – over FDR and Kennedy. It tries to tie his fascinating with FDR’s wife (a rumored homosexual) with his own sexuality, but this idea would play stronger if the film was about that, it’s more a note than a focus. Much more laughable than the non-sex scene (though that scene is a doozy – it’s as if Eastwood doesn’t even want to film it) is the sequence that addresses the rumors that Hoover was a cross-dresser. Yes, the film does show Hoover in a dress – albeit briefly – but it only serves to stop the movie cold. These sequences feel like they should be big moments in the film, but if cut out of the movie, you wouldn’t feel like you’re missing anything.
It’s worth noting that on the supplements Eastwood says “The rumor was that (Hoover) had so much on people that they couldn’t fire him. And that might have been true. I don’t know.” Such sums up the biggest problems with the movie. It never feels like Eastwood has a bearing on the director of the FBI, which is mimicked in the script- it plays more like a Wikipedia page brought to life than a passionate work of art.
Eastwood’s always talked about his shooting method, and I think he likes to keep working – which is systemic of older men who don’t want to die. And there is a very good movie in the story of Hoover’s life and times, but you need someone with more political savvy, or interest in the subject matter. Eastwood has nothing to say about J. Edgar, and the script by Dustin Lance Black feels shapeless. Early on there’s some life when Hoover tries courting, and takes Gandy to the Library of Congress, you get a sense of this overgrown nerd, and his pre-occupations, but when the film has Tolson cut down some of Hoover’s tall tales about himself, the film seems to reiterate points that were self-evident. Eastwood is a marvel with actors, but without having the focus of a great story or an attitude about Hoover, the most notable thing about the movie is that features some of our great actors wearing bad old age make up.
Warner Brother’s Blu-ray presents the film in widescreen (2.35:1) and in 5.1 DTS-HD master audio. The film also comes with a DVD and digital copy. The transfer is spot on to the theatrical presentation, and it’s a well shot movie (though Eastwood tries to use coloring for some of the period stuff, which works against his natural low light level shooting style. There’s only one extra, the making of featurette “J. Edgar: the Most Powerful Man in the World” (18 min.) which gets the cast and crew to talk about the man and the film. It’s fluffy and Eastwood says he has no opinions about his possible homosexuality or his power brokering. Again, that’s not what you want to hear from a director.