Clint Eastwood is a legend. Heck, my Dad got watching Heartbreak Ridge before I hit my teens and therefore, I remember the days of it being shown on TV when ‘maggot farmer’ was a veiled replacement for ‘m*****f****r’. He is also one of those rare success stories where he is celebrated for an actor, director and even as a composer.
But since his 2008 drama, Gran Torino, we have seen less of him on-screen. This is the case for his latest offering, biopic J. Edgar.
The drama, starring Leonardo DiCaprio as the title character, charts his involvement in the creation of the FBI, as well as his complicated relationship with those around him, especially that of his right-hand man (and implied lover) Clyde Tolson.
Leonardo DiCaprio has grown up so much on camera over the (almost!) twenty years. From his breakthrough performance as Artie in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?, superstardom in Titanic and successful collaborations with Steven Spielburg and Martin Scorcese, he has shown to critics that he has what it takes to be a great actor.
His powerhouse performance as J. Edgar Hoover is determined, conflicted and shows an unwavering loyalty to how the character should be. He easily overshadows the supporting cast, which includes devoted secretary Helen Gandy (a wistful Naomi Watts) and his devoted yet opinionated mother Judi Dench, but the scenes shared with Clyde Tolson (The Social Network’s Armie Hammer) are ones that made you think that there is more to J. Edgar Hoover than the FBI. His struggle with his homosexual feelings highlight a sensitive side he is forced to hide – with all of it coming out (literally) in one emotionally charged scene, which changes your perception of his character.
Eastwood’s sense of direction is not one to portray the lighter side of life, making his directorial efforts those of being typecast – his films tend to be quite long, poignant and sombre, and J. Edgar is no exception.
Even though the level of authenticity cannot be faulted, there is an underlying sense of respect and seriousness running throughout the film (does the first director of the FBI need to be taken more seriously than he already is?). The film is successful in the way that it make you question the protagonist’s credibility and what makes him tick, but its flashbacks from the beginnings of Hoover’s career to the later years in his life proved to be confusing. The constant changes in times shift continuously so you find yourself stopping and starting, which is ultimately this film’s downfall.
J. Edgar is overlong yet provocatively challenging. DiCaprio and Eastwood will undoubtedly be amongst the main contenders in the awards season, but it hasn’t achieved enough to be a winner.