Review: 8 Out of 10
Leonardo DiCaprio cross-dresses only once in “J.Edgar”, but the movie directed by Clint Eastwood and written by Dustin Lance Black is an enthralling character study nonetheless that throughout its 2 hour and 20 minute run-time never drags once.
DiCaprio plays the controversial FBI reformer, both as an older man (covered in excellent prosthetics) attacking his many critics and dictating his memoirs in the 60s and as a young agent who rises through the ranks to become Acting Director.
He managed to organize the Library of Congress before turning the FBI from violent goons into an elite crime fighting force using finger printing and other scientific methods, and his investigations into communist rebels, American gangsters like John Dillinger, and the Lindbergh baby only made him more high profile.
But this is also a man who tried to deport Americans over differing ideas, blackmail Dr. Martin Luther King and other politicians with wire-taps, and embellish his own self-worth and the FBI’s at every turn. He also kept inviting and then shrugging off the advances of his right-hand man Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer), probably due to his domineering mother (Judi Dench).
DiCaprio takes on this complex patriot/bully and bestows him with firm resolve, higher-than-thou arrogance, and emotional frailty. His scenes with Hammer, who portrays a man who suffered terribly at the hands of Hoover but who never shied away from being beautifully honest with him, are among the movie’s best.
Dench also does strong work here as well. Only Naomi Watts, playing Hoover ’s secretary, seems underwritten. The shifts in time between young and old Hoover leave the movie feeling scattered and it’s hard to keep track of what’s happening in each time period, but Hoover is a fascinating character with strong ideals but deep-seeded personality weaknesses (distant, distrustful, egocentric, intolerant, awkward, thin-skinned) that power both emboldened and made monstrously scary.
“J. Edgar” stands tall as one of the few solid pieces of drama to come out this year.