There’s no arguing that Clint Eastwood’s films are hit-or-miss. If ‘Letters from Iwo Jima‘ was a hit, ‘J. Edgar’ is a complete miss.
Written by Dustin Lance Black, the brilliant young screenwriter behind ‘Milk‘, I expected a lot more from ‘J. Edgar’, which does little more than apply the ‘Milk’ model to another famous man’s life. First, we watched Harvey Milk talk into a tape recorder and tell his story. Now we get to see J. Edgar Hoover dictate his story to a hired writer.
Black’s screenplay is basically Hoover’s Wikipedia page put into a lazy narrative. It makes sure to cram in every one of the man’s notable contributions. The most interesting part of his life (and, therefore, the most interesting part of the movie) is glazed over in a brief fashion to make room for… nothing. No speculations are made. No new facts are brought to light. It’s almost as if the purpose of this film was to repetitively whisper that Hoover was gay. It’s not even bold enough to come out and simply say it. The film only implies it.
As always, Leonardo DiCaprio is fantastic. He could play a Hoover vacuum and make it interesting. Come to think of it, that might actually be more entertaining than ‘J. Edgar’. Naomi Watts isn’t used enough. Armie Hammer is just fine, but for some reason the aging makeup on every other actor is leaps and bounds better than his. When Hammer dons the old man garb and makeup, he shuffles around like a frat boy wearing an old man costume at a Halloween party. He plays a caricature of an elderly person. Hammer doesn’t understand subtlety, and turns into a stereotypical shaky grandfather.
What could have and should have been a fantastic film is merely lazy and effortless. Eastwood’s direction is dull. Black’s script has no balls and lacks originality. Watts and DiCaprio give performances as if they want to win awards, but ultimately have no clue that ‘J. Edgar’ is a forgettable example of mediocre filmmaking.