In Home Viewings: "J. Edgar"

In 1924, J. Edgar Hoover (Leonardo DiCaprio) became the director of the Bureau of Investigation and quickly began making his indelible mark on the country’s justice system. Hoover founded the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 1935 and maintained dictator-like control on the agency until his death in 1972. Told through the lens of an aging Hoover describing his career to an autobiographer, J. Edgardetails the controversial and sometimes blatantly illegal measures Hoover took during his rise to power and paints a (literally) dark picture of a man history doesn’t look upon fondly.

If you ever want to enrage the masses of critics and amateur critics that plague the Internet these days, the surest way in which you can achieve your goal would be to create a piece of failed Oscar bait. Nothing gets a critic hot under the collar like a film that aspires to win awards but doesn’t bring the goods required to secure such attention. Even if said Oscar bait turns out to be a half-way decent film, that won’t matter because it intended to be more and therefore should be held to a higher standard. I usually rail against this viewpoint as I feel a film should be judged based on what it is not what it isn’t. In this case, however, I’m jumping on the bandwagon and will now proceed to lambast J. Edgar.

Like any year, 2011 brought us a number of truly bad films. Everyone agreed that Priest, In Time, and The Change-Up were terrible and I especially despised The Sitter. But I would contend that the makers of each of these films knew they weren’t working on the next Citizen Kane and they each gave us a movie that was up to par with the time, effort, and money spent on the project. So while one could argue that there’s no way J. Edgar is worse than The Change-Up, I would argue that given its pedigree and the maddening ways in which it wasted my time in an effort to be “substantial”, this is the worst movie of the year (or at least the worst I saw). I’m not as universally on board with Clint Eastwood’s directorial decisions as some of my colleagues are but even still, I expect a great deal more from a filmmaker of Eastwood’s ability than what he provides here.

J. Edgar is a haphazard attempt at shedding light on a controversial figure but focuses so squarely on being revelatory and shocking that it forgets to actually tell the story it sets out to tell. As a result, J. Edgarcomes across as virtually toneless and painfully dull while at the same time layering itself in a pretentious importance that doesn’t measure up to the film’s protagonist (or at least he protagonist as portrayed here). The narrative, which jumps back and forth between Hoover’s last days and the events of his younger days, is structured in the most convoluted way possible. It’s as if Eastwood took the script, cut it into tiny pieces, threw it into a bag, and then pulled the pieces out one at a time and forced them together into a jumbled jigsaw puzzle that doesn’t make a lick of sense. It isn’t even that I couldn’t follow the storyline, it’s that after about 10 minutes I didn’t want to. Eastwood does nothing to make Hoover a compelling character which creates a Grand Canyon-like distance between the audience and the subject matter. On top of that, Eastwood chose to wash virtually all color out of his film resulting in a look that thoroughly matched the film’s dull tone. It is overly dark and ugly and it feeds directly into the grumpy old man perception younger viewers have of Eastwood.

For his part, DiCaprio brought his A-game to his performance and the role will do nothing but cement his stature as one of the industry’s very, very best. He appears to be all-in here and it’s just too bad that he’s completely and totally overshadowed by the miserable way in which this film is presented. Point blank, this is an awful film and only a great lead performance keeps it from taking up residence on the list of “Worst Movies Ever.”