By Nathan Peterson
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Arnie Hammer, Naomi Watts
As a Brit, and one who was born in the latter half of the 20th Century, my knowledge of US history and politics is, shall we say, patchy. Without being able to identify with the former head of the FBI, I wasn’t particularly excited by the prospect of watching this movie. From the point it was announced all the way up to the moment I put the disc in my Blu-ray player, I had no interest in it, even with the positive reviews it was getting.
Another reason for me to avoid the film until now is down to Leonardo DiCaprio and Clint Eastwood. Quite an outlandish thing to say, but let me explain.
DiCaprio is a fantastic actor and I cannot fault him ether for his dedication or his technique. I am constantly impressed by how well he has managed to break away from the shackles of Romeo & Juliet and Titanic. No longer a pretty boy, he has become a truly outstanding professional. That being said, I sometimes feel like he takes his work all too seriously, picking roles that, whilst certainly full of merit, are a little too straight laced. It’s probably an unfair criticism, but I would like that from time to time he did something a bit more light-hearted, and less “powerful”.
I feel pretty much the same way about Eastwood’s directing career. Whilst Million Dollar Baby was a great film, and he usually does a fantastic job behind the camera (Hereafter notwithstanding) most of his movies don’t inspire me enough to want to put my bum on a cinema seat, and I am much happier to wait for his films to arrive on DVD.
So it’s fair to say, when I started watching this, I was expecting a bloated pompous affair. Luckily, this is anything but that.
Ok, yes, it is still a very serious film following J Edgar Hoover and his rise to power, but happily this was one that was entertaining and not too full of itself.
DiCaprio once again shows his acting “tekkers” as he excellently portray J Edgar, young and old. I can’t say whether the events which are accurate, or whether the character has any resemblance to the man, but I didn’t feel like I was watching an actor trying to be like someone else, his transition was so well done that it was almost like seeing a living breathing person.
J Edgar proved to be his own undoing, as his strong will and desire to be loved and accepted were constantly at odds, leading to his own downfall. In some ways, this film and DiCaprio reminded me of The Aviator, although unlike Howard Hughes, J Edgars unravelling was much more controlled.
Naomi Watts as the ever-loyal assistant, Mrs Gandy, is also pitch perfect. Watts is an actress who also rarely fails to disappoint, and whilst her performance in J Edgar is understated, her love for Hoover is plain to see, even down to the last few scenes. At no point does she question the motives of her boss and friend, but merely does what she does to protect him and his project.
Clyde Tolson, portrayed here by Arnie Hammer, also plays an important role as he tries to make Hoover the best that he can be. At times, his performance as the right hand man is almost a little too sickly sweet, and his desire to be Hoover’s lover is a little too obvious, but you can easily see a man who is concerned for the consequences, both personal and professional, following his friends decisions.
With strong performances in The Social Network and J Edgar, and an upcoming lead role in The Lone Ranger, Hammer seems to have a great career ahead of him, and is one of the better young actors around at this time.
Again the directing of Eastwood is good here, and his choice of flicking between J Edgar dictating his memoirs, and seeing some of those events unfold first hand, works very well. I doubt a more linear approach to the storytelling would have worked quite as well, so kudos to Clint.
One final word on the team responsible for the make up. As I have already said, this film takes place in two time periods. Whilst other films, such as The Debt, might opt to use two different groups of actors to play the same parts, J Edgar used the same actors, but using make up to age them. This is a risky strategy at times, and can result in the actors looking farcical and unconvincing, but a combination of excellent make up, and a subtly altered acting style from the three leads, means that the aged faces you are presented with look very real indeed. A gamble which paid off.
Overall J Edgar is an arresting and captivating film, with a noteworthy performance from DiCaprio, which may be among his best to date.
Rating: 4 out of 5