Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Review: J. Edgar (**1/2)

Leonard DiCaprio continues to distinguish himself as an actor with a powerful performance as America's number one crime fighter of the twentieth century in Clint Eastwood's J. Edgar. Focusing more on the man than the achievements it is a joyless interpretation by Eastwood who displays some sympathy but mostly dubious aspects of the FBI Director's career re-hashing with very little new insight the same old tired rumors tossed around for decades about a paranoid workaholic with quirks that had the goods on enough Presidents to give him absolute power, corruption being the perk.

J. Edgar Hoover first made his name rousting Reds during the Rise of Bolshevism in the 20s. At age 26 he was given charge of what would be the FBI which he would transform into the elite crime fighting and forever Red hunting organization of the USA. The Linbergh baby kidnapping is solved, Dillinger, Machine Gun Kelly, Baby Face Nelson are all brought to justice. With success comes fame and more power which Hoover plans to hold onto for as long as possible. In this case it will be his last dying breath.

Eastwood's script and direction runs with all the rumors of the day (homosexuality, cross dressing, glory hound extroadinaire,) to flesh out J. Edgar and it comes across as catty as Hoover and Tolson in a scene gossip queening about Lucy and Daisy. There's a Ginger Rogers look alike Robert Kennedy and Richard Nixon imitators along with the dismissive glances of real American hero Charles Lindbergh who sees through the crime busters facade to convey his venality but little evidence from the up tight but elusive Hoover to offer viewer or historian anything new beyond the suppositions half a century old. 

With Eastwood literally and figuratively putting Hoover in a bad light throughout the film it is left up to DiCaprio to humanize him which he does with a startling restrained coldness and power of a man delusional or otherwise whose aim is true. From young adulthood to grave DiCaprio remains fully focused, convincing and absorbing. DiCaprio can only carry J.Edgar so far though and Eastwood's attempt at defining the man as a humorless Darth Vader most of the way adds nothing revelatory to the anti myth of the past few decades that followed the legendary build-up of the 20s and 30's.

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