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The face of law enforcement is a little waxy: The bad makeup, good actors and oversimplified story of J. Edgar

 

 
Overview
 

Genre: ,
 
Starring: , ,
 
Directed By:
 
Studio:
 
MPAA Rating:
 
Release Date: November 11, 2011
 
Length: 137 minutes
 
Directing
7.0


 
Plot
7.0


 
Acting
8.0


 
Cinematography
7.0


 
Total Score
7.3
7.3/ 10


 

Whoa


The leads were well-cast.

No


The oversimplified tale featured some terrible makeup.


Bottom Line

In the end, as much as anything, the film provides a significant lesson in American history, reminding of us the way the principles of freedom and equality have been compromised over the course of the last one hundred years.

0
Posted November 14, 2011 by

 
Full Review
 
 

Near the end of J. Edgar, a Clint Eastwood biopic about the first director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, confidant Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer) tells J. Edgar (Leonardo DiCaprio) that the Hoover autobiography is a series of lies. Clyde systematically reviews each one of them, discounting the F.B.I. director’s credibility and about a quarter of the story the audience has watched unfold on screen. This assessment reveals that the film, like J. Edgar, has tried to manipulate us.  And any good Hoover did—advancing forensics, for example—is tarnished by the bad he did as a result of his need to self-promote and self-protect using any means possible.

Told through a series of flashbacks that are framed by the dictation of Hoover’s life story (to, he insists, for the bureau’s legacy), the film tries to explore the minimal, but complex, relationships that motivated J. Edgar to become both a strong leader and a dangerous force. The film commences with a scene in which a young Hoover witnesses the aftermath of a politically motivated bombing that leads him to vow to devote his life to investigating not only the crimes, but also the potential crimes, of radicals. Shortly after, we see him successfully deport activist Emma Goldman, a socialist whose “crime” was speaking out against the government.

Fast forward to the abduction of Charles Lindbergh’s baby: When local authorities intercede in Hoover’s attempts to investigate using forensics, a frustrated, Hoover goes back to Washington D.C. and pushes for a federal ruling that will create a centralized fingerprint repository and put kidnappings under the F.B.I’s jurisdiction. Hoover’s tenacity is reflected in a stirring courtroom scene that shows how J. Edgar would come to rely upon scare tactics to justify an increase in his power.

J. Edgar’s arduous work ethic and tenacity isolate him from the rest of the world. He lives much of his adult life with his opinionated and dominating mother (Judi Dench), confiding only in his secretary (Naomi Watts) and his colleague and travel companion, Clyde. Early on, he begins collecting secret files on presidents and political leaders in order to ensure he remains in power. And it works. He remained director for 48 years until he died in 1972.

The movie is, perhaps, a bit simplistic, showing a combination of the era and an overbearing mother led to Hoover’s simultaneous repression and boundless ambition. While the film does not fully explore J. Edgar’s secrets (he was reportedly a cross-dresser and allegedly a homosexual), it certainly doesn’t ignore those things, either. DiCaprio does a remarkable job of mimicking the man’s vocal intonations and showing just how ruthless he could be. And despite terrible geriatric makeup that made him look as though he was peering out of an age-spotted wax mask, Hammer was excellent as Clyde, a much more sympathetic character who provided a foil to Edgar’s relentless pursuit of his idea of justice.

In the end, as much as anything, the film provides a significant lesson in American history, reminding of us the way the principles of freedom and equality have been compromised over the course of the last one hundred years.


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