November 13, 2011

J. Edgar

J. Edgar is a meticulously crafted and compelling portrait of an ambitious, petty, vindictive, paranoid, ugly little man who created powerful and modern F.B.I. while consolidating his power with intimidation, surveillance, and blackmail.
Hoover arresting Bruno Hauptmann, the kidnapper of the Lindbergh baby
At the same time, Hoover (DiCaprio) lives at home, Norman Bates-style, with his domineering, zealot mother (Judi Dench) and works and dines each day with his life partners: his secretary-for-life Helen Gandy (superb Naomi Watts) and his second-in-command/perfect specimen of manhood/daily "companion" Clyde Tolson (gorgeous Armie Hammer).

The movie is framed by 1960s Hoover telling his life story to a series of FBI ghostwriters. It's an old screenwriting tool, but it was inobtrusive.

(NOTE: The framing device reminded me immediately Attenborough's CHAPLIN biopic. NOTE: While this isn't covered in the movie, Hoover had Chaplin de facto deported from the US in 1952. Read more here.)

The movie shifts regularly between Hoover's 1930s heyday and the 1960s. What was amazing and clever about it was how organic and non-confusing these shifts were. Obviously, the makeup and costumes made it obvious when we were shifting time periods, but these shifts always felt natural to the storytelling. Dustin Lance Black's screenplay may be the strongest part of the movie.
The old age makeup was amazing, but I still feel it was a mistake to cast DiCaprio as Hoover. DiCaprio is a terrific actor, but DiCaprio is too young and too handsome to play Hoover. The makeup was terrific, but they had to work too hard to make one of our most handsome actors look like one of our Top 10 Ugliest Pubilc Servants of All Time. DiCaprio turned 37 on 11/11/11, but he plays Hoover from age 24 to 87.

Whenever Hoover would have a romantic dinner with his life parter Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer), I would marvel at how smooth and beautiful Armie Hammer was. The DiCaprio would appear, with oily, badly cut hair, heavy black eyebrows, and pockmarks. It was too much!

Director Clint Eastwood always makes classy, efficient, un-fussy movies, and this is no exception. I grew a little weary of the heavily color-corrected/desaturated look of the movie. Using computers to effect the color palette of movies has been popular for over a decade-- O'Brother Where Art Thou? was a trailblazer-- but I worry that the desaturated look  will become a cliche'd trademark of this era. I suspect, 30 years from now, while watching Minority Report or Traffic, future moviegoers will say "Oh, this must be from the Aughts! Look at how de-colorized it is!"
Clint's respect and clout means he can get great actors in every role, and this cast was Character Actor Hall of Fame:
  • Jeffrey Donovan (from BURN NOTICE) played RFK. Did you know he's from Amesbury, MA?
  • Zach Grenier
  • Jessica Hecht
  • Ken Howard
  • Josh Lucas as Charles Lindbergh
  • Dermot Mulroney
  • Stephen Root
  • Lea Thompson
  • Damon Herriman looks EXACTLY like Bruno Hauptmann, the man who kidnapped the Lindbergh baby.
  • Christopher Shyer doesn't look like Nixon, but he got the cursing just right.
  • Even Ed Westwick from Gossip Girl was in it!
Also On Stub Hubby:
Starring Leonardo DiCaprio
Directed by Clint Eastwood