There’s nothing that will take you out of a story easier than bad effects, especially bad makeup. That said, it’s hard to change the looks of an actor who already has such an established and recognizable face as, say, Leonardo DiCaprio, in a believable and immersive way. At first it was very easy for me to see through the makeup and realize that you’re seeing Leo, not J. Edgar Hoover.
However, as the film goes on, Leo transforms and the character takes over, and my disbelief was completely suspended. Then, while I was fully immersed in this experience I could really admire the fantastic makeup job. Well, I could admire the fantastic makeup on Leo, but Armie Hammer’s makeup looked like one of those bad old man masks the guys on Jackass would wear.
No, that’s not an old Karl Childers from Sling Blade, that’s Armie Hammer.
This movie follows J. Edgar Hoover through his rise to power as he created and ran the Federal Bureau of Investigation for almost forty years while behind closed doors he harbored secrets that could have compromised his legitimacy in a big way. The film has been criticized for going too easy on Hoover’s known homosexuality and cross dressing. That certainly seems to be true, but it does not skip over this major aspect of his life completely, in fact, it becomes a major part of the plot of the film.
So, from a historical standpoint, this film may not be the most accurate film out there and if that’s what you are looking for, then parts of J. Edgar may be frustrating. I, however, went into the film with very little knowledge of J. Edgar Hoover’s life. I knew that he was the head of the F.B.I. and apparently a little gay, but beyond that I had no idea who he was. So I approached this film as a character study, and a brilliant and fascinating one at that.
Let me start by saying that everyone who saw the trailers for this movie probably expected Leo to give a powerhouse performance and I can honestly say he did not disappoint. Clint Eastwood directing with Leo starring seems to be a terrific pairing. The portrayal of Hoover by DiCaprio is part of what makes this movie so enjoyable because he creates this incredible character that makes you want to see more just to see what kind of dumb shit he’s going to do in incredibly smart ways.
J. Edgar Hoover’s rise to power was steered by his mother, who he has an uncomfortably close relationship with, making him a fascinating character cross between MacBeth and Oedipus. Then the addition of his homosexuality, which he kept hidden from everyone (including from himself for a while), gave the character an entirely new and fascinating dimension. The script was written by Dustin Lance Black who won the best original screenplay Oscar for Milk in 2008 and who I hope keeps writing biopics for famous homosexuals.
Oh God, Dustin, please say he’s next!
One thing in the movie that I found fascinating was that it seemed to draw a parallel between Hoover and Cody Jarret, the gangster played by James Cagney in the 1949 film White Heat. If you’ve seen White Heat, then you may notice it and try to look for it as you watch the movie then let me know in the comments if you can see what I’m talking about or if I’m reaching kind of far here. If you haven’t seen White Heat: go see it! It’s one of the best movies ever made!
There are a lot of special nuances to J. Edgar that I really appreciated and I feel like if I were to see it again, I would notice a lot more. For me, Clint Eastwood is one of the best directors working today and the things I love about his style really help this movie to shine. Eastwood likes to tell a story in a way that is quiet and works slowly, which is a turn off for a lot of people, I know, but it’s something I appreciate after watching a lot of fast paced films made by younger directors. He also has a more classic style of cinematography using wider shots that linger more than most modern movies in aHollywood where fast cuts and extreme close-ups have become the stylistic norm.
You don’t need to see the whole face when someone’s talking on screen.
The bottom line is that I appreciate both styles but I think that for this story and for this character, Eastwood’s classic style of filmmaking really accentuates the story.
I really thought long and hard about what I should score this film because it is not a perfect movie (Clint Eastwood wrote the score for the movie and made what is probably the cheesiest music possible for the sentimental scenes). I thought that it might be a two beer movie until I realized that this movie is about two and a half hours long and it did to me what most movies that long fail to do: it pulled me through and kept me engaged the entire time.
I was never bored and was fascinated by the characters and the story. The movie has the combination of a terrific cast, a skillful and emotional writer, and a seasoned and legendary director. For me, it did not disappoint, and the only beer I felt compelled to drink was the one to toast its success.
Bonus Drinking Game
Take a Drink: whenever Hoover isn’t being gay enough.
Take a Drink: every time you hear a different president’s name.
Take a Drink: every time your opinion of Hoover changes between pity, respect, and hate.