Sunday, November 13, 2011

Review: J. Edgar

The primary reason people are talking up J. Edgar is because of Leonardo DiCaprio's earth shatteringly good performance as the title character. That's all well and good, because he deserves all the praise he's getting and more, but when you actually see the movie (oh spoiler for the review, you should DEFINITELY see the movie) you'll actually find that so much of the movie is good and so many of the good things are getting overlooked.

Anyone even remotely aware of history is going to know the basics. John Edgar Hoover is a young up and coming agent in the Department of Justice and, after a series of triumphs, helps create the new Bureau of Investigation (the addition of Federal came later) answerable only to the Attorney General. Thanks to a mix of his own sterling reputation and (let's not beat around the bush) the sheer amount of blackmail material he had on everyone in power, meant that he kept his position for nearly 50 years, through 8 presidencies.

The vast majority of the film takes place in between the founding of the Bureau and the resolution of the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby, though there is a framing device set around JFK's assassination and the movie moves in and out of time quite a lot. Which is the closest thing the film comes to a problem, but we'll get to that in a moment.

The biggest problem the film has to overcome is in making one of the most morally grey and unsympathetic men of the last century into a sympathetic protagonist and the film does admirably. Part of this is the incredible performance by Leonardo DiCaprio, easily the best performance I've seen all year. J. Edgar Hoover, as portrayed by DiCaprio, is a lonely, bitter man, so obsessed with protecting his country from the myriad threats he sees to his nation and so repressed that he can barely show any affection or even emotion toward the people that are important to him

Many of the other performances are top notch notably Judy Dench as Hoover's overbearing mother. Arnie Hammer is a little stranger, initially feeling a little flat but really giving it his all when the second act rolls around, giving real weight and depth to a character who comes close to being the emotional heart of the story.

Of course, as many people who have hired Gary Oldman have found, hiring the best actors in the world won't save you if you don't have a worthwhile script and good direction. In this area, as in most, J. Edgar shines. The script emphasizes the human element of the story, eventually revealing itself as a rather intimate character study. For those of you wondering, yes the issues of Hoover's supposed homosexuality and crossdressing do come up, but in much more mature way than you might be expecting.

The direction is well done, concentrating on fantastic lighting and...oh don't look at me like that, I'm taking film classes, I'm allowed to notice lighting, especially when it's this good. The cinematography is great, especially within the tight corridors and crowd shots at the FBI. Ad the makeup used to create a subtly aging Leonardo DiCaprio is nearly perfect.

It does have flaws, mostly in the pacing. The use of the framing device left me at a loss for when some events happened, and while the makeup on Leonardo DiCaprio is amazing, the makeup for Armie Hammer could occasionally stand to be better.

Look, this is a dividing film so you're gonna hear a lot of different opinions. But for my money, it's a great biopic and easily one of the best films of the year. So if you've got any inclination, don't miss this film, it's well worth a look.

Elessar is a 21 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he wonders how Hoover would react to Agents Mulder and Scully?

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