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J. Edgar

A biographical movie directed by Clint Eastwood

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J. Edgar: The Assemblage of Hollywood's Finest

  • Nov 2, 2011
             There is no question that J. Edgar is a remarkable man. He is the father of the Federal Bureau of Investigations and revolutionized the logistics of crime scene forensics; nevertheless, like any other man, he is not one of immaculate morality. There were accusations of corruption and disapproval over his use of espionage in his lengthy 48 years as the FBI’s director that began in 1924 and ended in 1972.  Behind the scenes, he had an egotistical demeanor that demands the respect and recognition of all.  He cared immensely about his image and the images of those in the Bureau. Often, Edgar was impeccably dressed and can be perceived as a classy fellow. He was a leader. He can indeed be seen as an individual ahead of his time. A modern man like himself dwelling in the restrictive archaism of the early 20thcentury can be seen as an anachronism.  It leads one to ponder what truly lies within the heart of such a prolific and forward thinking individual? But many more will question the validity of the ample claims surrounding his sexuality.
             J. Edgar is a juicy piece of cinema with elements that are expected to produce ripe, saccharine results.  Talks of Oscars have evolved from mere discussions to vociferous chants with the filmmaking trifecta assembled to create the historical drama- Academy Award winning director Clint Eastwood, Academy Award winning Screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, and the often-nominated Leonardo DiCaprio.  Ardent movie fans are anxious and waiting for the day DiCaprio wins his Oscar, and they are confident that this may be his vessel. Never have I witness such anticipation for the release of a biopic, but J. Edgar, himself, may not anticipate certain aspects of the film, whether true or false, that delves into the deepest trenches of his personal life.
           For some, scandalous may be the right adjective to describe the film’s premise; nevertheless, it was certainly revealing.  Despite being quite light on the politics, the film does touch on Edgar’s achievements, efforts to create the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and his efforts as the archetypical director. J. Edgar's peculiar idiosyncrasies are the main focuses of the film, and yes, the matter of his homosexuality is presented with candor. However, Director Clint Eastwood's J. Edgar isn't the flamboyant homosexual, speculated by the media. Eastwood presents a man struggling to attain masculinity in the traditional sense of the word, but there is sense of boyish innocence and awkwardness that lingers despite his successes and accomplishments.
            Eastwood and screenwriter Dustin Lance Black weaves an interesting non-linear narrative, or a narrative within a narrative punctuated by J. Edgar’s voice over narration as he hires handsome young scribes to transcribe his memoir.  Leonardo DiCaprio, the film's J. Edgar, maneuvers through the various ages of the famed director, recollecting the events that made his career, starting with the Palmer Raids. DiCaprio's performance is nothing short of brilliance, though his accent may trouble those with an impeccable ear for accents. His portrayal of the director during his 20's exudes the youthful sense of awkwardness of a novice amateur. It is evident that the young Mr. Hoover is an intelligent man, but he is oblivious on how to converse with members of the opposite sex- other than his mother. He and his mother (Judi Dench) are involved in an obsessive mother and son relationship, one in which she is his sole companion. (No, this isn't a psychopathically perverse relationship a la Norman Bates and Mother).  These idiosyncrasies are imperative in deciphering the FBI director, as his rise to prominence affects their evolution. DiCaprio’s portrayal of the elderly J. Edgar captures his strong sense of authority, but there is strangeness to his demeanor. There is a sense of urgency to retain his power, as it is sure to slip from his grasp in the event of his death.
            Clyde Tolson, acted by the tall and handsome Armie Hammer, is the other half of the famed director, his supposed significant other. Their first encounter is filled with lustful glances and subtle magnetism, and Edgar is eager to hire the young Mr. Tolson to his newly formed Bureau, despite Tolson’s intentions to use the position as merely a stepping-stone to a grander profession.  They form a strong friendship that quickly develops. Tolson becomes Edgar’s right hand man and confidante, as they strove to retain justice, capitalism and democracy in the midst of radical ideology and organized crime. The dialogue between the two demonstrates their mutual tender affection, with camera movements that emphasize the slightest embrace.
            Edgar’s homophobic mother, who wants a wife for her aging son despises their mutual affinity, for she perceives that their relationship is anything but platonic. The confrontational scene between mother and son is resounding. She has formidable presence that envelops the room, and in a way she has absorbed his masculinity and rendered him defenseless against her many words. In their hotel room, he sits like an  innocent child as she tells him a story about the local neighborhood homosexual. She uses a rather subtle approach but her message is clear. It poses as a debacle that places his mother against his confidante Tolson.
            Eastwood creates a sparse, neutral environment that emphasizes intimacy between characters, especially the scenes with Tolson and Edgar or Edgar and his mother. They are enveloped in the simplicity and bareness of their surroundings as though they are immune to the debacles that plague the real world. Lindbergh's baby kidnapping fiasco and John F. Kennedy's assassination were few events there were presented, but it absent of an urgency that would call forth pathos. They provide merely a glimpse into the mind of our protagonist and juxtapose instances in which ambition thrives.  J. Edgar’ s narration over the events had as boastful tone of an individual listings his various accomplishments.
            A collaboration of such magnitude automatically demands Oscar recognition. However, one must not be overzealous in making such predictions, for there is room for disappointment. I personally prefer using the phrase 'mediocrity at its finest' to describe this film. Visually, it is expertly crafted, but the various subplots, or historical events, are presented in a fragmented manner that belittles its importance and appears minuscule in importance compared to J. Edgar's relationship with Tolson and his mother. Dustin Lance Black, known by the masses for his Milk screenplay, displays his affinity for the LGBT culture through his body of work and strives to reveal what lies within the nucleus of J. Edgar, which is his love for Tolson. I entered the theater hoping to learn more about the man behind the desk and the details of the politics of the era. What I received was a great character analysis of the Director. There is no question that the film is good. But had it delved into the politics further, it would have been great, thus the phrase 'mediocrity at its finest'. A man like J. Edgar requires more than 2 hours to delineate the many accomplishments and the juicy tidbits of his career. 
             J. Edgar can be seen as cinema of the zeitgeist, reflective of our insatiable appetites for tantalizing gossip. Too often we restrict our public figures, deny them of their privacy, and drag them out of the proverbial closet. The inclusion of the romance is contriving and is exerted in a manner devoid of historical accuracy. It bathes in the melodramatic depths of pathos; nevertheless, it’s impossible not to sympathize with a man of such grand gravitas. With all the power and influence in the palm of his hand, it is the power over self that he never acquired. It is the great irony of life.
           Abounded by superior performances and the controversial portrayal of an American legend, J. Edgar is targeted towards mature moviegoers who are capable of assessing the content. Indeed, it doesn’t compare to Milk or DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese’s Aviator, but it definitely has heart. Of course opinions will vary. There’s a certain psychological aspect to J. Edgar that I feel quite appealing. He is the quintessential milquetoast momma’s boy. It is vital to release that the film doesn’t utilize the traditional moral protagonist and evil antagonist dichotomy, because for many of us we are our own worst enemies. 
J. Edgar: The Assemblage of Hollywood's Finest

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November 16, 2011
Excellent review. Just saw the movie today and really liked it a lot.
November 16, 2011
Hey thanks! What was your favorite scene?
November 16, 2011
Probably the daffodil scene with his mother.
November 10, 2011
Great review, Kathleen! This movie sounds good, so I'll have to check it out!
November 03, 2011
Interesting review, for most of it you praise the director, writer and DiCaprio and then, describe it as mediocrity at its best but, still rate it a 4. I had hoped that this would focus on politics and the inception of the FBI while profiling an important figure in American politics and history. It's a shame that they focus on the sensationalism and relationships but, perhaps it'll be interesting as well as entertaining. I love DiCaprio and I think Eastwood is a fine director, so I think that I'll have to check this one out! Thanks for sharing.
November 03, 2011
Yeah, your welcome. I thought the given scale was limited. Rating at a 3 or 60% is an injustice, because it would equate to a D. Its good but I had such high expectations for it. I don't know it just seems like J. Edgar has such a long career with so many accomplishments. I don't think they should all be compacted into a 2 hour film, because I wanted to know more about the politics of the era in detail. I think thats where my disappointment stems from. Its a great character study, but it just lacks the extra oomph to make it great as a whole. Thats where the phrase mediocracy at its finest comes into play. But it's just my opinion though. 
November 03, 2011
That makes sense. It can be a good film but, not live up to your expectations. I think I may have the same expectations as you do because I wanted to learn something of the politics during that era. He was a man with a lot of power and a lot of info that wasn't shared with the public- it would be cool to get a taste of that. But, I guess I'll have to see!
November 02, 2011
I watch anything with Eastwood's direction! Thanks so much for the advance review!
November 02, 2011
Yep no problem!
More J. Edgar (2011 film) reviews
review by . November 23, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
Possible Spoilers Alert. I really enjoyed this film. I found it quite fascinating that the FBI had such a hard battle to get initiated into American government and that each new President wanted to fire Hoover and disband the FBI.      Without Hoover, we wouldn't have FBI, kidnapping wouldn't be a federal crime (brought on by the Lindberg kidnapping), the agents wouldn't be armed or have any right to arrest criminals, and we wouldn't have a fingerprint database …
review by . November 16, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
Oscar worthy performance for Leonardo - but no awards for makeup - J. Edgar
I rated J. Edgar a four based on Leonardo's DiCaprio's performance.   Clink Eastwood slow placing seems completely appropriate to me in this film, although I have read many reviews complaining about the pacing.  At two and a half hours the movie is long, but I was kept spellbound by Leonardo's tranformation into J. Edgar Hoover.   In my opinion he is a shoe in for a best actor nomination this year.   I thought Judi Dench was excellent as always playing J. Edgar's …
review by . September 28, 2012
posted in Movie Hype
Throughout an illustrious directing career Clint Eastwood has delivered outstanding movies such as Unforgiven, Mystic River, and Million Dollar Baby, for which he has won five Academy Awards, for best Picture, Best Director, and including the Irving Thalberg Life Achievement Award. My personal favorite of all his directed movies is Gran Torino.    The actors who have worked with him have been blessed with Oscar: Gene Hackman for Unforgiven, Tim Robbins and Sean Penn for Mystic …
review by . November 09, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
One of my longstanding fascinations with history is the way we deify or vilify historical figures. Yes, we all know that George Washington and Thomas Jefferson preached big words about freedom while holding slaves, but those are just two examples, and neither one tells the full story: There are documents which indicate that Wash and TJ were aware of their hypocrisy, but thought slavery would fade away naturally in time. Martin Luther King was known for his dream, and for principled non-violent resistance. …
review by . June 19, 2012
posted in Movie Hype
DiCaprio seems to amaze me with his string of exceptional performances (Blood Diamond, Catch Me If You Can, The Aviator, Inception, Shutter Island) and he once again delivers as the founder of the FBI who kept a file on everyone and was the most feared man in America. Told as a sort of memoir, Hoover is nearing the end of his life and calls in an agent to write down his story.    Starting with witnessing the near assasination of a Senator. He finds a leaflet supporting the US …
review by . November 10, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
Star Rating:         Leonardo DiCaprio has proven himself a masterful actor, but his performance in Clint Eastwood’s J. Edgar is sure to put him on the same shelf as Sean Penn, Meryl Streep, Viggo Mortensen, Johnny Depp, and Christian Bale – actors who inhabit their roles so convincingly that the real person essentially disappears. As J. Edgar Hoover, who became the head of the FBI in 1924 and remained so until his death in 1972, DiCaprio thoroughly captures …
review by . November 08, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
'J. Edgar' 'Two Jews On Film' Duke It Out Over Clint Eastwood's Latest Bio Pic (Video)
      By Joan Alperin-Schwartz      Every once in awhile, you experience a performance by an actor that simply blows your mind...And that's exactly what happened to me, when I watched Leonardo DiCaprio portray J. Edgar Hoover  in Clint Eastwood's new film, 'J. Edgar'      .What makes a great performance are the subtle things an actor does...things that inform the character...a gesture, a …
review by . November 30, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
Eastwood's filmic account of Hoover the Voracious, the Fastidious, the Venal - self-aggrandizing, mother's son, political paranoiac, closet queer, social inept, vindictive bureaucrat - exudes twentieth century Americana ethos, highlighting the contentious FBI director's harried exploits and tortured, marginalized private life.      Alternating betwixt Hoover's ascension and heyday in the nineteen twenties and thirties and his twilight years in the sixties through …
review by . September 16, 2012
posted in Movie Hype
Should have been better
This speculative biopic of the controversial FBI director stars Leonardo DiCaprio. The story opens in 1970, as Hoover is dictating his history of the Bureau; in flashbacks, we see his pivotal role the Lindburgh case and his battles with Communists, the Roosevelts, Kennedys, and Martin Luther King, Jr. He was also obsessed with his doting mother (Judi Dench) and his long-time Assistant Director, Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer).      The story is, in turns, exciting and boring, heartfelt …
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About this movie


J. Edgar is an upcoming biographical drama film directed by Clint Eastwood,[1] from a script by Dustin Lance Black. The film will focus on the career of FBI director J. Edgar Hoover from the Palmer Raids onwards, including an examination of his private life as an alleged closeted homosexual.[2]
The film stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Armie Hammer, Naomi Watts, Damon Herriman, Ed Westwick and Jeffrey Donovan. J. Edgar is slated to open the AFI Fest 2011 in Los Angeles on November 3, 2011, and to be released on November 9, 2011, in the United States by Warner Bros. Pictures.
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Drama, History, Clint Eastwood, Leonardo Dicaprio, Gangsters, Naomi Watts, Bio Pics, Armie Hammer, J Edgar Hoover, J Edgar Movie Review


Director: Clint Eastwood
Genre: Crime, Drama
Release Date: 2011.11.11
MPAA Rating: R
Screen Writer: Dustin Lance Black
Runtime: 137 minutes
Studio: Imagine Entertainment, Malpaso Productions, Wintergreen Productions
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