J. Edgar Review
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No award season can really be complete without a Clint Eastwood film. Nearly every year, the octogenarian director cranks out yet another captivating drama that—whether hit or miss—is guaranteed to get people talking. In recent years, his films have depicted war, gang violence, sporting events, and the afterlife. But, with this year’s entry into the award season race, he tackles the biography of a captivating—and highly controversial—political figure: former FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover.

J. Edgar stars Leonardo DiCaprio as the infamous director, who dedicated his nearly five-decade career to battling radical communists and others who threatened the peace and safety of his country—using any means necessary.

  
 
The film is set up as a kind of autobiography, built around Hoover’s own retelling of some of the FBI’s greatest moments to the young agents who are assigned to record the Bureau’s history. The story skips around chronologically, touching on Hoover’s early days with the Department of Justice, his arrests of the country’s most notorious gangsters, and his thorough investigation into the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby, offering snapshots of a fascinating career.

At the same time, though, the film also takes a look at some of Hoover’s more personal relationships—like his close relationship with his judgmental mother (Judi Dench), the awkward start to his professional relationship with personal assistant Helen Gandy (Naomi Watts), and, of course, his were-they-or-weren’t-they relationship with right-hand man Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer).

J. Edgar Hoover was certainly a complex character. He’s well-known for his advancements in criminal science, for his rule-bending and information-gathering, and, of course, for his rumored private life. But, in trying to touch on every last aspect of this notorious character’s story, Eastwood bites off a little more than he can chew.

The film moves from one topic to another, trying to cover as much ground as possible. In the process, it offers a glimpse into both Hoover’s life and his career—into his achievements, his beliefs, and his fears. But it fails to give any aspect of Hoover’s career or personal life the kind of attention it deserves. Even at two and a half hours long, the film feels like it merely scratches the surface of this fascinating character’s life story. It never truly latches onto the real man, giving instead a fuzzy image of accomplishments and controversy.

As is often the case with Eastwood’s films, though, the subtleties speak volumes—from the short but meaningful conversations to the hints and insinuations and the subtle differences between Hoover’s narration and what really plays out on screen. DiCaprio plays the character well—despite the challenges of portraying Hoover from his 20s through his 70s—offering as much information about the character through his actions and reactions as he does through his spoken lines.

Eastwood’s J. Edgar is a fascinating film about a controversial figure. Still, it may have been more satisfying if Eastwood had focused on just one aspect of his life instead of trying to condense five decades of controversy into 150 minutes. It makes the film feel like merely an introduction to the complex character—and, in the end, it’ll leave audiences wanting to know more.


Blu-ray Review:
If, as predicted, watching J. Edgar left you wanting to know more about this fascinating figure, then you’ll definitely want to set a few extra minutes aside to watch the Blu-ray release’s one special feature. J. Edgar: The Most Powerful Man in the World is an 18-minute extra, in which the cast and crew discuss the man behind the movie. Though it isn’t the in-depth exposé that I would have liked (actually, I would have been perfectly happy with a full-length History Channel feature), it does go a little more into his secrets, his politics, his contributions, and his closest relationships, making it well worth a look.

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