I can’t resist a good biopic. If done well, they always fascinate me because you have someone real to compare the performance to, you have a lifetime of stories from which to anticipate the plot. Master director Clint Eastwood’s J. Edgar is certainly fascinating, but the storytelling was outdone in great strides by the performances, notably Leonardo DiCaprio as the “Most Powerful Man in the World”, J. Edgar Hoover.
The script for the film bounces all over the place, spanning nearly seventy years in the life of the man who founded the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and pioneered forensic science as we know it, including the collection and cataloging of fingerprints to quickly identify criminals. He landed the job in his twenties, and continued working as the head ofthe FBI for fifty years, until he was found dead in his mother’s home. He was said to have kept a secret file of information on everyone and anyone – communists, terrorists, protesters, friends, and even the presidents that he served under. He kept this file between himself and his trusted personal secretary, and he wasn’t afraid to wield the power that having dirt on people can give you. Just ask the Kennedys.
DiCaprio seemed destined for this role, having already played so many famous people in his wonderfully diverse and impressive career. Howard Hughes, Frank W. Abagnale, Jim Carroll, and let’s not forget that he was Romeo. And we can’t forget Jack Dawson, right? Oh, and he’s also going to be playing Jay Gatsby and Frank Sinatra in upcoming films. But I digress. The man has a knack for capturing the little things about people, the little ticks and quirks. DiCaprio doesn’t ever attempt to disappear into his roles, you always recognize him, and yet you fully believe that he is another person entirely. He created the voice and movements of a man he’d never met, and did so in such convincing fashion that after watching the film I now feel as if I knew J. Edgar Hoover.
Also notable is Armie Hammer, as Edgar’s longtime friend and companion, Clyde Tolson. He was believed to be gay, and many suggested that Edgar himself was as well, but the film doesn’t delve into it much, aside from a passionate kiss between the two after a glass-shattering brawl. Remarkable to note are Hammer’s subtle nuances that he brings to the character, hinting at things here and there, but cleverly keeping his entire agenda shrouded in the shadows.
The cinematography here is another winner, casting wonderfully schemed browns, greys, and blues amidst harsh shadows, evoking the themes of the film: Not all is what it seems, and everyone has secrets to hide.
All in all, J. Edgar is an intimate look at a very large chunk of a man’s life, a chunk that may be less in-depth than it could have been, but a chunk that is made wonderful by the performances, direction, and near-flawless technical aspects.
Look for this one to to show up on the Oscar ballet in January, with a lock for Dicaprio, and possibly Hammer as well, if nothing else.
Rated R for brief strong language.
Running Time: 137 Minutes.
Released in theatres: November 11th, 2011.