MFR Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★
Leonardo Di Caprio – what can I say? A truly stunning, breathtaking performance with all the vigor and intensity such a role requires. He is simply brilliant in J. Edgar and what’s even better is the film matches it with equal elegance and power…oh, apart from Leo’s undead looking boyfriend.
J. Edgar is the story of J. Edgar Hoover (Leonardo Di Caprio), the first Director of the FBI and one of the most powerful men in America throughout his incredible and controversial 50 year reign, charting across a hell of a lot of history. The film moves between Hoover as an old man and Hoover as a young man, focusing on the beginnings of his revolutionary new methods of intelligence gathering and his public persona as a man in power acting as a shield against his tortured, confused private reality which remains in his later years. The film looks at his complicated relationship with Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer), Hoover’s protégé and their secret romantic relationship, depicting it with the dignity it deserves.
The first thing that worried me from the trailer of J. Edgar was the aging prosthetic in order to make Di Caprio convincingly look in his 70s for part of the movie. Actually, Leo just about pulls it off. It’s not perfect and it never could be considering the difficulties of aging such a handsome, recognizable face (or indeed any face), but they didn’t do too bad a job. I could go along with that, partly aided by Leo’s acting which subtly conveyed an older man so I’ve got to say that’s a good job all round. However, the less said about the aging of Clyde Tolson the better. When young, he looks about 5-10 years younger than Hoover (incidentally Tolson was actually 5 years younger). When old, Tolson looks like something out of The Walking Dead. It’s a credit to the film’s strength that I was never anticipating a quick shot of Rick Grimes hacking him down. The actor looks both ridiculous and utterly unrecognizable from his younger self making me wonder what on earth was the point of using this same actor for the older scenes. Fortunately, the older Tolson doesn’t have a great deal of screen time, but when he does it’s admittedly rather distracting.
Now that I’ve got that out of my system, time to talk about the film’s many credits. If I haven’t already mentioned it, Leo steals the screen and is undoubtedly a frontrunner for best actor at this year’s Oscars. After seeing Michael Fassbender in Shame a couple days ago, I’ve been lucky enough to see two very special, albeit very different male lead performances lately. Di Caprio enunciates every single word with a fitting intensity for such a complex, empowered man. The direction is classic Clint Eastwood and his tone and wonderfully conflicted use of lighting to depict interwar America reminded me much of 2008’s Changeling, a really brilliant movie I don’t think quite received the credit it deserved at the time.
Although the portrayal of Hoover’s personal life is mainly speculative, Eastwood does really well not to pull any punches in order to show a dimension of Hoover’s character which he wishes to represent. Sometimes the dialogue can be a little too on-the-nose but the film is dealing with a lot of history that not everyone will be fully aware of and this is balanced with Di Caprio’s performance which adds that necessary extra layer of depth. Its themes are made boldly, matching the cinematography and it manages not only to feel important for its time but important now, posting big questions regarding the seizure of powers and the corruption of man.
This is a film that took me by surprise. After the tepid and rather limp The Iron Lady last week, it was refreshing to see a biopic with a refreshing toughness and thirst to make a statement. Clint Eastwood’s still got it, Leo’s going from strength to strength and all in all everyone apart from a couple makeup artists can feel rather pleased.
J. Edgar is out on 20th January in the UK. Running time 137 mins. Certificate 15 (UK).
Comments and feedback are always welcome or just give the film a rating by using the stars at the top.
Review by David Rank