Film Review: J. Edgar

Clint Eastwood’s J. Edgar offers flashes of greatness, but ultimately is weighed down by its flaws. The film is interesting, but fails to satisfy.

J. Edgar Hoover became the first director of the FBI. After a quick rise in through the ranks of the Bureau of Investigation, Hoover’s successes were well publicised. Although he was the face of crime fighting in America, J. Edgar held secrets of his own…

Director Clint Eastwood seemingly has good intentions with J. Edgar, but comes up short. The film appears as if it will be told in flashback format at first. However, the film frequently jumps from the present day to different periods in history. Given the lack of immediate information regarding the setting, it may take viewers a few moments to identify the era and event in different scenes. In one sense, covering most of Hoover’s career offers a suitable biopic of the life of a prolific character. Nevertheless, Eastwood may have done better to explore a handful of key events in more detail, rather than the constant jumping from decade to decade and back again.

Dustin Lance Black’s screenplay is uneven. There are some good scenes between J. Edgar and long-time confidant Clyde, which explore the close relationship between the pair. Likewise, some of the scenes with Hoover and his mother give some context to his later behaviour. However, there is an over reliance upon grand posturing dialogue, perhaps to mask J. Edgar‘s lack of substance at times. Moreover, some scenes are awkwardly written, while others seem surplus to requirement. The film could have also been trimmed to under two hours, which would have made for a more enjoyable picture overall.

Performances in J. Edgar are good for the most part. Leonardo DiCaprio delivers a strong performance as the title character. It will be surprising if DiCaprio does not receive an Oscar nomination for this performance. Armie Hammer is also solid, however both he and DiCaprio are hindered by some cumbersome prosthetics. The prosthetics used on Hammer in particular seem to alter him far too drastically. Naomi Watts is suitably cast in a minor role, while Jeffrey Donovan’s impersonation of Robert Kennedy is so abysmal it seems like a parody.

The costumes in J. Edgar are fantastic. The art direction is also great in producing the authenticity of the period settings. Hoover was an intriguing character, it is a shame that J. Edgar is not better executed.