Saturday, 31 August 2013

FILM: J. Edgar (7/10)

Why did I watch it?
J. Edgar Hoover is a historical figure I've always wanted to know more about. I enjoy American crime-based history and after reading James Ellroys's fantastic Underworld USA trilogy, which although fictional certainly suggested that Hoover was a very interesting character in American crime fighting.

What's it all about?
A biopic of John Edgar Hoover, the FBI's first Director, Clint Eastwood's film finds Hoover (Leonardo DiCaprio) recounting his career for his memoirs and reliving his beginnings at the Department of Justice before becoming Director of the department's Bureau of Investigation. The film touches on his war against communism, interest in scientific investigation, the G-men era and his relationship with close friend Clyde Tolson (Armies Hammer).

Should you watch it?
J. Edgar is a strange film. While I wouldn't go as far as saying I really enjoyed sitting through it's two hours plus running time, I found the subject matter incredibly interesting and DiCaprio's powerhouse performance as Hoover kept me glued to the screen. The film is certainly not lacking for strong performances as DiCaprio is well supported by Armie Hammer and Naomi Watts.

I think writer Dustin Black struggled to balance the elements of character study with the events taking place around Hoover. The film is definitely at it's most interesting when Hoover is leading the FBI through the pursuit of Dillinger, investigating the Lindbergh kidnapping and plotting against Martin Luther King. When the film remembers it's a biopic it turns to Hoover's personal life and time is spent analysing his relationships with close friend Clyde and his mother, played by Judi Dench. This narrative, from various times in Hoover's past, both professional and private life, to the current day, does jump around without too much coherence but I didn't find it as troubling as many critics seem too have.

J. Edgar will not appeal to those with no interest in American history yet for those keen to understand Hoover's dogged role in the creation of the FBI and some of the major political events of the twentieth century, and willing to forgive it it's flaws, it offers a fascinating look at the achievements and legacy of the man while touching on his character, all told through the great performances.

Oh and yes, some of the make-up and prosthetics used on DiCaprio and Hammer during the later years are distractingly laughable.

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