Clint Eastwood continues to increase his repertoire as a director. This time, he returns with the historical documentary film J. Edgar.
The film is FBI director J. Edgar Hoover’ story, and a glimpse into the life’s work that went into the making of the FBI. Besides giving us an interpretation of Hoover’s personal journey, the film also has a telling take on contemporary American political life.
Yet within a genre of films perfected in Hollywood, and epitomized in the work of directors like Oliver Stone (JFK and Nixon) and Martin Scorsese (Aviator), Clint Eastwood’s attempt seems to fall short. While the film is an interesting extension to Eastwood’s work, it remains disappointing because it does not have a fresh perspective on the controversial Hoover years. However, the film might still have value as documentary fiction for those completely unfamiliar with American politics, albeit without the penetrating insight of European cinema.
If there are moments of brilliance in this film, they come from Leonardo DiCaprio’s spellbinding performance. Just as he did in Aviator, DiCaprio brings alive another American legend alive in all his complexity. It is his performance, and not Eastwood’s directorial vision that gives the film its racy edge.
DiCaprio moves easily from the arrogance of youth to the helplessness of old age. He combines power with a grudging vulnerability. Even at moments when he is unlikeable, DiCaprio’s Hoover is always human.
Here, Eastwood’s directorial abilities could be complemented for his ability to get the best performance out of his actors. Leonardo DiCaprio, Armie Hammer, Naomi Watts and Judi Dench live their parts, breathing passion into a film that could have easily fallen apart completely.
On the strength of these stellar performances, I recommend the film with a rating of 2.5 as a good one time watch. Even when the director does not live up to the high standards that have already been set for him in this genre, his actors’ performances make for memorable cinema.
The ratings and what they mean
The ratings are on a scale of 1 to 5 and try to strike that difficult balance between cinematic critique and giving the regular film buff a peek into what’s playing in town and worth a watch.
1: Watch this film only if the director pays you
2: You could safely give this film a miss
2.5:A one time watch
3: Good cinema. Money well spent
4: Great cinema. A standing ovation
5: Simply speechless. A masterpiece.⊕