Watched Apr 06, 2012
Peter Strauss’s review:
While watching J. Edgar, I kept thinking about Leo's other big bio-pic, "The Aviator". The two feature similar eccentric, ambitious men who were possessed by their controlling mothers while their quirks began to possess them.
The difference between the two is J. Edgar does pretty much everything poorly, while The Aviator does most of it right. Hughes's mother is seen in one scene, played twice, and captures her presence of him. Hoover's mother is often present, and through clumsy dialogue asserts her control.
The Aviator shows a man whose ambitions consume him. J. Edgar glosses over Hoover's struggles to form his FBI and shows him as an earnest, ambitious man with a few manageable ticks.
The Aviator captures the man and his reputation within a sliver of his life. J. Edgar flies around confusingly using shoddy make-up to keep DiCaprio on screen, deep in the uncanny valley without even using CGI (a first that I've seen) because his 70-something Hoover has the eyes and voice of a young man.
The abysmal cinematography is mesmerizing as well. Shot by the same DOP whose done all of Clintwood's recent work, this film looks especially bad while his others have just looked old fashioned. Every scene is underlit, faces are obscured by dark shadow, as if everyone's office at the FBI is completely in the dark. A bizarre creative choice that doesn't seem to have any reason and distracts from the film and obscures the action. Is this to hide the shoddy make-up maybe?
Dustin Black's script is the biggest problem, having no focus, clumsily flowing around case-to-case, then back again, forward and backward in time randomly and worst of all, allowing Hoover to be the author of his own bio-pic, painting a very gentle picture of a much more complex man. Black's only real arc is the relationship between Hoover and his number two who develop an understated romantic relationship. Of all the alleged, unconfirmed quirks of Hoover's reclusive life, Black gets the most mileage out of this relationship, which in reality was an allegation largely used to discredit Hoover politically rather than actually documented. Of course, it is these personal, fictionalized elements that take center stage while the actual surveillance and development of procedure take back stage as the movie breezes over Hoover's suspicions of MLK, frustrations with presidents and fear of government, and his roles in several arrests. Instead, the character is painted as a compassionate, progressive, and under-appreciated leader, rather than a conflicted man with an ambitious vision who, regardless of his personal orientation, kept homosexuals and blacks out of his bureau and collaborated with McCarthy during the Red Scare. But whatever you think of Hoover, it doesn't matter, Black's script thinks of him as Hoover might have seen himself. Not particularly useful to history, which conveniently absolves the film of historical accuracy. Go figure.