Friday, November 18, 2011

J. Edgar - Movie Review

Sometimes you see a movie coming out that you just think is going to be a homerun, only to walk out just going, 'meh'.  J. Edgar is one of those movies.

J. Edgar is the story of two gay men forced to live in a straight world.  They must keep their sexual tension and passion bottled up for decades, because J. Edgar's Mom would disapprove. That doesn't stop them from having fun though.  They shop for clothes together, have daily lunch and dinner dates and take vacations together to watch horse racing.  They keep secrets and gossip about their coworkers.  It's all in good fun.

They sometimes hang out with their best gal-pal, Helen, played by Naomi Watts.  Helen states at the beginning of the film that she doesn't really have time for men.

J.Edgar shows you that ulitmately their love could not be denied! They grow old together and eventually become kind of depressing and an unfunny version of Grumpy Old Men.

Oh, and they worked for the FBI and fought crime sometimes, too.  Hated it!

Woah!  I just felt like I channeled 'Men on Film' from In Living Color a little bit.

Seriously though, J. Edgar is a biopic that follows J. Edgar Hoover's (Leonardo DiCaprio) career in the FBI, the innovations he made into forensics and some of his high profile arrests.  The film is told in flashbacks, so it does jump around in time a bit.  At times it can be a little confusing as characters seem to swap out randomly.  Hoover seemed to fire people on a whim, so every time it would flash to the present, there'd be yet another new guy he was telling his story to.

As I joked about above, the movie does explore his sexuality.  It specifically focuses on his 'relationship' with his second in command, Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer).  I really liked Hammer's performance.  He has kind of a Jon Hamm look and feel about him.  It made me think he might have made a good Superman if they hadn't gone with Henry Cavill.  Anyway, the whole subtext of J. Edgar seemed to be about his sexuality.  It never comes right out and says it though.  It's all speculation.

The problem is with J. Edgar is that outside of his sexuality, it just doesn't have any real focus. It plods along, which is a shame because it starts with a bang...literally!  At the beginning you see the FBI going after gangsters, but then it quickly shifts to other areas.  If the movie had focused on that more, it might have been more intesesting.  It's almost like they went, "Oh, you already know about that stuff, so we decided to show you stuff you might not care about as much."  I can see their point though in the sense that some of the more notable stuff that happened you've already seen covered in many other films.

J. Edgar felt like something would have been better suited as a mini-series on TV.  That way they could have spent more time on different topics.  This guy had a 50-year-career as director of the FBI.  That's a lot of time to cover in a two hour movie.  Just when I found myself getting into a particular sequence, it would jump to something else.  It's not even that I found it boring, but there's not a lot of energy to keep it going and it does kind of drag on.  Plus, with all of the jumping around, there were a few times where I thought the movie might be ending, only to have it continue.

I'm not sure if this is the fault of Clint Eastwood's direction, bad editing or that Dustin Black's screenplay focused on the wrong things.  I'm not sure they all knew exactly what he wanted to do with the film.  Oh wait a second, Black also write Milk (and a few other related movies).  I think I have a better idea of what he was trying to do at least.

One thing that kind took me out of the film was the 'old makeup' they used to age the actors.  I actually thought Naomi Watts' was good and Leo's was convincing, but Armie Hammer's looked like one of those creepy old masks you've seen around lately.  I found it hard to take seriously.  In fact, I'm pretty sure I heard people laughing randomly at the makeup at times.

The performances are great though.  DiCaprio gives an almost predictably powerhouse performance.  I can't even think of anything in the last few years where he wasn't good.  It's funny because I hated him after Titanic, but now he's one of my favorite actors and I look forward to seeing anything he's in.  Anyway, it's kind of clear this is an Oscar-bait movie for Leo, but I worry that the reception of the film might hurt his chances a bit.

As mentioned earlier, I thought Armie Hammer was good, as was Judi Dench, who played Hoover's mother.  Naomi Watts was fine, but the story really didn't demand all that much from her.  You also get smaller roles from guys like Josh Lucas, Stephen Root and Dermot Mulroney.

I really wish I would have liked this more. On paper, it has everything going for it: a good cast, great performances, Clint Eastwood directing, etc.  It ulitmately left me feeling a little empty and unsatisfied.  It can be summed up into this: Leo's performance: Good!  J. Edgar the movie: Not so good.

This is better suited as a a rental.  I wouldn't make an effort to see this in the theater.

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