Friday, December 2, 2011

J. Edgar review

By no means is "J. Edgar" a bad film. There are some very good, strong moments to the film, there are some interesting stories contained within this film, the makeup to most of the actors looked pretty good, it has beautiful cinematography and excellent production design. You can tell a lot of careful attention and design was put into this film. Unfortunately, you can't really say that about the performances and pacing of this film, which is where the movie falters.

In the last ten years, Leonardo DiCaprio has made a name for himself and his acting career by carefully choosing the projects and directors he works with. He's been in a lot of good movies, some great ones, and a couple of misfires. One thing that I have been noticing about him though is that he's sort of been stuck playing the same character-type lately. Even in a role as varied as J. Edgar Hoover, Leonardo DiCaprio's performance is really not all that different than his performance in Shutter Island, Inception, or the Departed. In all these films, he's playing a man struggling with deep inner turmoil. At his best, he's very intense and captivating. But in a movie like this, it just feels cold, lifeless, and dull. And since "J. Edgar" revolves around his acting, the whole film feels cold, lifeless, and dull.

Clint Eastwood is known for being very actor-friendly. He's also known for shooting very minimal takes and getting his films done under budget. One wonders, however, what this movie could've been like if more focus and attention was paid to the acting. It feels like, at some point, Eastwood has stopped focusing on the actors. Angelina Jolie's performance in Changeling is the last performance in a Clint Eastwood movie that really moved me. My main complaint and gripe with Mystic River was that I thought it was too overwrought with emotion and drama. With J. Edgar, I feel like it could use some of that emotion and drama. As it is, there are too many parts to J. Edgar where I could feel the dramatic potential, but ultimately did not feel moved or attached to what was happening on screen. Consider the scene after J. Edgar witnesses his mother's passing or the scene between J. Edgar and Clyde after J. Edgar tells him he's considering proposing to a woman. These scenes should've been the emotional and dramatic highs to the film, but it ultimately feels too calculated. I felt that more could've been gotten out of those scenes. What we are left with are scenes that simply feel incomplete.

Another part of the problem with this film is the inter-cutting between the past and the present. The past being J. Edgar's rise to being the head of the FBI and the present being his twilight years. The scenes where we watch J. Edgar Hoover in the '20s and '30s are very fascinating, particularly when it goes into the case of Charles Lindbergh's missing baby. In the film, we get a very clear picture of not only how J. Edgar came to be, but how the FBI became what it is today. The film tries to delve into all these other little areas of J. Edgar's life but the sum of all these scenes don't really add up to a full portrait of this man. Although that could have also been part of the point of the film. The film at least tries to tell us that there's J. Edgar's version of who he thinks he is and then there is the reality. We get hints and snippets of what that reality is, but nothing more than that.

Overall, something just feels incomplete about "J. Edgar." At it's best, it's a very well-done, well-made soft, subtle drama about this powerful man at the twilight of his life. At it's worst, though, it's almost completely lifeless and too calculated for us to feel any connection between J. Edgar or his close associates. Armie Hammer gives an inspired and noteworthy performance but even he feels like wasted potential. Meanwhile, Naomi Watts was completely underused. This leaves us with Leonardo DiCaprio. He no doubt looks and talks the part, but he doesn't feel the part. Physically he embodies this man, but I'm not sure I felt the connection on a personal and emotional level. I would even go so far as to say that his portrayal of Howard Hughes felt more real than this. A finger has to be pointed at Clint Eastwood and the uneven script by Dustin Lance Black. I actually thought the hints towards J. Edgar's sexuality was done really well, in fact, the relationship between Tolsoy and Hoover was portrayed fairly well. I just think there was too much going back and forth for us to really get connected with the J. Edgar of old.

And even though I did actually think the makeup of on Leo, Armie, and Naomi was nicely done, I feel there was way too many closeups on these characters. As good as old people makeup can be, the more closeups you have on the artificial faces of these characters, the more artificial it seems. On another note, the film was weird in that it didn't attempt to have portrayals of JFK, FDR, Capone or any other important figures throughout these times. But the portrayals it did have (RFK, Nixon, Lindbergh) fell completely flat in my opinion. Things like that was what kept this movie from reaching the potential of this fascinating story. Better yet, a fascinating portrait on the very complicated life of J. Edgar. A life so complicated, it couldn't possibly have been figured out 2-3 takes at a time.

Rating: 6/10

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