Directed by Clint Eastwood
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Armie Hammer, Naomi Watts, Josh Lucas, Judi Dench
One of 2011’s most anticipated films is the biographical film about J. Edgar Hoover. The film was directed by Clint Eastwood and features a script written by Academy Award winner Dustin Lance Black. His Oscar came for writing in Milk in 2009. The film’s title role is played by Leonardo DiCaprio and he’s surrounded by talent in this large-scale production. The film is not a straight-line biography. This is, as the film puts it is time “to re-clarify the difference between hero and villain.” This controversial figure is brought to life in this amazing movie.
J. Edgar Hoover (DiCaprio) rose to power young and fought to keep it for over 5 decades. He surrounded himself with people he felt he could trust. His first choice was his personal secretary Helen Gandy (Watts) who would serve by his side for most of his career. His second choice is the man who would be his closest friend and second in command at the F.B.I. Clyde Tolson (Hammer). During his tenure the F.B.I. would face communists and organized crime. They would also assist in solving the crime of the century when the Lindbergh baby was kidnapped. Hoover would spend his career protecting his country, his office, and his personal life from those he considered threats. With his personal files he would wield a power unlike any other in the history of the United States.
This film is an amazing look at one of the most controversial figures in U.S. history. One of the major tasks of the filmmakers was to bring him to life without siding with any one account of his life. Clint Eastwood and Dustin Black do an amazing job avoiding assumptions without losing focus of the story. The highlights in the long career of Hoover are well-selected and seem to illustrate powerful points.
Leonardo DiCaprio has succeeded with another huge role with J. Edgar. As with The Aviator he has been asked to play the role of a legend and a mystery. This time he succeeds in every aspect. He manages to play Hoover excellently even as he’s forced to adjust his performance as his character ages.
Some critics have praised DiCaprio while being less generous to the film as a whole. I think that while DiCaprio is amazing there are other aspects of the film that make this a must-see. Naomi Watts performance in the film is her best ever. Her adjustment in character to the different ages she’s asked to portray is amazing. Equally good is the performance of Armie Hammer who follows up his role in The Social Network with this great role.
Clint Eastwood has evolved as a director and this film is evidence of this evolution. He has hit-or-miss tendencies with the films he makes that make every new movie an adventure. This might not be his best film, but this should still rank high on the awards circuit for 2011.
If any criticism can be leveled at this film its the unorthodox storyline. The film is not designed to make conclusions or to focus on one specific point or event. For many viewers this is not what they want to see. The film is about the life and times of a very deep and complex person and it succeed in giving a great survey of his life.
I would recommend this film for anyone who likes true-life stories, historical films, or a great drama. I give this film 3.9 out of 5 stars.