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Film J. Edgar
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J. Edgar

Submitted by MBergeron on November 10, 2011 – 1:50 pmNo Comment

Clint Eastwood seems to be rowing with all his oars in the water even at this late stage in his career. J. Edgar, Eastwood’s latest film, finds a non-linear structure, complete with Eastwood style color desaturation, to emphasize a non-hagiography of one of America’s most powerful men.

J. Edgar’s strong points are Eastwood’s handling of Dustin Lance Black’s (Milk) script both literally and sub-textually. If the film has a specific weak spot it’s the age make-up worn by Leonardo DiCaprio (Hoover) and Armie Hammer (Clyde Tolson). As old men their age spots and receding hairlines are realistic and maybe the necks aren’t realized. It’s not so much that the latex takes you out of the film so much as you shrug and go “there’s Leo and Armie in latex.” Aging effects of Naomi Watts, who plays Hoover’s lifelong secretary, are actually quite good right down to the way her eyes seem dimmer as she ages.

J. Edgar constantly switches from the present (early 70s, late 60s) to the beginning of Hoover’s career, when in fact he was a trim spry guy with a domineering mom (Judi Dench) and a job in the Justice Department. In the now, Hoover is dictating his memoirs to a succession of FBI agents (all young, all handsome). In the past Hoover gets appointed head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and to various degrees oversees the infiltration and capture of the perils of that era (Dillinger, communist moles).

Hoover didn’t introduce forensic detective work to law enforcement but he constantly clashed with superiors over his methods, examples of which set the standard for modern investigation. But Eastwood is capable of a curve ball as he suggests later in the film, through Hammer’s character, that what we see in the first part isn’t how it really went down.

People don’t come off as sympathetic in J. Edgar, not Hoover, not the Presidents or Attorney Generals, and certainly the veracity of the past is up for interpretation. Hoover and Tolson share a special relationship that can be buddy-buddy at times or knock-down drag-out homoerotic. Perhaps not ironically this film from Eastwood represents the best he has to offer in the way of directorial chops but its dark take on governmental powers is sure to push some people’s buttons the wrong way. And that’s a good thing.

Secret recordings play their own character in J. Edgar and when the old man dies there’s a rush to see who gets to the files first.

- Michael Bergeron

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