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07 March 2012

J. Edgar (2011)

Directed by: Clint Eastwood

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Arnie Hammer, Naomi Watts

Genre: Drama, Biographical

Colour, 130 Minutes

Well, I will admit I had some hope for this film, but the recent news of it being rotten did make me think less of it. When I was done watching I realised that it definitely did fail to be a great biopic due to its sloppy lighting and out of control plot. Leonardo Di Caprio no doubt gave an accused ‘scar-bait’ performance, but a darn good one it was. Clint Eastwood’s direction is confusing and unclear as it jumps from one year to the next as it explores the life of the career of J Edgar, and is likely not to impress viewers.

J. Edgar explores the public and private life of one of the most powerful, controversial and enigmatic figures of the 20th century. As the face of law enforcement in America for almost fifty years, J. Edgar Hoover (Leonardo DiCaprio) was feared and admired, reviled and revered. But behind closed doors, he held secrets that would have destroyed his image, his career and his life.

First things are I would say it is not worth the 130 minutes it runs for. The career of J Edgar is not the most fascinating, but still an interesting study. The film has tried to convey and reveal some of the personal and career aspects of J Edgar, but failed to be engaging. This was mostly because of how the film flowed. One minute we are seeing the old J Edgar talking to a secretary as she types what he says, then next we are seeing the young J Edgar. The story fails to make these transitions clear, and it is hard to follow at times, confusing you on what is going on.

The cinematography was not very great either. Many of the indoor scenes were admittedly badly lit, and it is no exaggeration as the Rotten Tomatoes critical consensus states this. There are scenes with J Edgar in his office having conversations/meetings and you can barely see him in the badly lit scene he sits in. Other scenes with bad lighting may be deliberately dark, but look very unappealing in the end.

What did you all think of the make-up? Personally, I felt the make-up looked fine on Di Caprio, but they made a mess of Armie hammer in his old age make-up. One thing that intrigued me with the film was the relationship between Edgar and Clyde as it is rare to see a homosexual relationship in a film. Here, we see Edgar as a suppressed homosexual, who tries to cover up his sexuality, and who we also see dressing in his mothers clothes in a scene that makes you say to yourself, “should I laugh or have pity on him?”

I have not seen many of Eastwood’s directorial productions (this is in fact the second, with the other being Gran Torino), but his work here was very confusing in a bad way. We jump between stages of J Edgar’s life very often, wondering what is going on and what is in flashback, and what is in current time. The storytelling is confusing and is truly all over the place, leaving no time for the audience to care about what is happening. The drama elements were okay, but needed lots of work to be engaging.

Some critics have said that Eastwood has ignored too much, of how dark Edgar was for the US, but I do not have much to say on that, as I only know briefly of his presence. Therefore, as a film, I analyze its cinematic aspects rather than how well it captured his life and career.  That is all with that point.

However, the film does have some hope for viewers. Leonardo Di Caprio makes it mildly worthwhile watching and if it were not for his powerhouse performance that showed dedication, the film would fall very flat indeed. The supporting actor Armie Hammer also did well in the film for his screen time, having a nice little characterisation on him to brighten the film up a little. There is no point making this review detailed, so I will end with this point: the film tries to be an immerse and exciting biopic drama that attempts to make J Edgar’s life appear as extremely fascinating, when it really makes it quite deadpan and lifeless.

Verdict: The film could have been better on a dramatic scale with its showing of this mans career and personal life if it were not for its incoherency, choppy cinematography and blandness. Overall, J Edgar is not a horrible film, but one that is lacking.

Rating: 5/10

Extra Information
Age Certificate: 15
Country: USA
Language: English


  1. You're more generous with your rating, I gave it 3/10, I agree about what you said - Hammer's make up and cinematography are such a mess. It's a shame cause Eastwood used to make good movies - Milion Dollar Baby, Mystic River, Unforgiven...

  2. It wasn't terrible like I was imagining, but it does feel a little like it is just showing Hoover's achievements, rather than the actual person himself, which they actually try to do but sometimes work and sometimes fail. Regardless though, DiCaprio is awesome. Nice review.

  3. Michaël Parent9 March 2012 at 20:18

    You see, with Eastwood we have a great film (Gran Torino, lately is the best he had offer in years) for many lesser ones (Flags of our Fathers, Changeling, Hereafter). I blame it on the fact that the man is making films one after the other without taking any break. Even if I will go toward any other film he will direct I am a little tired of the buzz around him and I think he should take a little break just to get more inspiration and pull better films in the future.
    However, I still haven't seen J. Edgar and the number of films from 2011 that I haven't seen and that seems more interesting push back my viewing of it. Nice write up btw Thomas.



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