Oscar season begins its prime this week with awards contenders galore that will flow into theaters these next couple of months. Kicking it all off is a film that involves two men that are no strangers to the Academy Awards: Leonardo DiCaprio and Clint Eastwood. Yes, J. Edgar is the film that begins the large cluster of award-worthy films to come soon, but does all the hype surrounding the film, not to mention the Oscar track record of the individuals involved, make the film a hit?
Unfortunately, even Leonardo DiCaprio’s outstanding performance cannot save the film from it’s biggest flaw: the script. The time jumping back and forth makes for a very confusing narrative, and just when you want more of the events that take place, we get another time jump that begins to annoy you after awhile. Match that with surrounding performances that simply don’t measure up, and the recurring plot element that makes the film feel like a political version of Brokeback Mountain, and you simply get a film that doesn’t feel too satisfying.
DiCaprio’s performance is what ultimately boosts the picture’s overall feel. His portrayal of a vicious F.B.I. dictator who’s rise to power only ascends more with time is a beautiful thing to witness. Whether he was the young spitfire that brought forth fierce anger towards the enemies who undermined the job he lived for, or the old curmudgeon who’s grip slipped on the power he once had. Leo plays both fantastically, and shows that he is currently in the lead to win Best Actor at this year’s awards.
Director Clint Eastwood, on the other hand, is a different story. One of the film’s problems is that everything is incredibly dark. At times, the scenes are on the verge of black and white, and it’s simply unappealing. The dark scenes become darker, and the filter on the camera doesn’t make it appear grainy, but it’s just so devoid of color or life what so ever.
Also, you have to place some of the blame upon Eastwood’s shoulders as well. You can feel powerful performances coming from Armie Hammer and Naomi Watts, but while their screentime is plenty, we really don’t get to see what makes the character’s tick. All we truly get to see is that Hammer’s character is more flamboyant than he appears, and is loyal to Hoover until the bitter end, with the loyalty speaking the same for Watts’ role as well.
In fact, there’s even the role of the agents that are chronicling the story of Hoover as he tells them the story that is occurring on screen. The first of these actors to come along is the hardest one to top: Ed Westwick (Gossip Girl). Westwick’s small performance as Agent Smith is a smart one, challenging J. Edgar to explain the details he’s telling the biographer to type down, and after awhile, Smith leaves and never returns. Once Westwick’s void is filled, the actors that fill his spot can never quite fill the shoes, and it’s a shift in tone that can certainly be felt.With nearly two and a half hours of running time, the film’s narrative jumping back and forth after awhile just gets plain exhausting. This all leads to an ending that you really see coming either way, and you can’t help but feel that there was more in the storyline for younger J. Edgar. And when a revelation about the plot we’ve been witnessing is revealed, we start to question literally everything we’ve seen thus far, and it really makes you challenge the entire film. However, much of the story remains at least intriguing with the political shake ups, but the jumping tends to ruin a good deal of it.
Next to the politics and the dictator trademarks, a plot element that grows bigger as the film goes on is the Hoover/Tolson relationship. And no, I’m not saying that their friendship bonds become stronger. I’m talking that the homosexual undertones revolving each man reach a point where the two even have a non-lover’s quarrel within a hotel room as the two are on vacation, where basically everything is thrust onto the table. This sees the film through until the credits roll, and definitely feels like a mixture of elements, from The Notebook and Brokeback Mountain. Ultimately, it’s aiming for an emotion that truly isn’t there, and a heart that you can really only feel the echoes of, not the full effect.
Adding to the list of problems, the film’s prosthetic makeup ranges from the very solid, to the visually horrible. J. Edgar’s differs at times, ranging from the realistic when you factor in DiCaprio’s performance, to the extremely hard to believe, which pretty much sums up Armie Hammer’s makeup during the entire time his character is an old man.
But, what the film does best is help you to understand the man at the center of it all: J. Edgar. While it does have an unbelievable amount of problems, the focus still remains, at all times, upon J. Edgar Hoover. By the end of the film, you learn just what makes him tick, and what you may have discovered might not be nearly as heroic as his legacy may paint him to be. He has a great share of triumphs in his work and dictation, but shares a great amount of flaws in his personality.
Overall, J. Edgar is far from Best Picture caliber. While it has a riveting performance that Leo will undoubtedly be nominated for, it’s problems outweigh even the best of qualities. What starts off interesting and promising becomes tired, and overwhelmed by way too many forces working against it. It’s not the worst film of the year, and some audiences may be swept up in the picture’s true story that’s aiming for Oscar gold, but there’s nothing too much you can truly take away. It’s messy Oscar-bait with a heart buried under a list of complications.