By Darryl Griffiths
Every Hollywood commodity is expected to have a dip in form once in a while. The surprising but undoubtedly justified critical panning his previous paranormal project: Hereafter received, seems to have prompted director/actor Clint Eastwood to lay down the gauntlet to himself. With arguably his most ambitious film to date, Dirty Harry attempts a biopic based on the founder of the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) J.Edgar Hoover, who survived nearly 50 years and eight US presidents as its spearhead. In addition, trying to condense the breadth of such material into a two hour piece of cinema. No pressure then!
Hoover was certainly a controversial and publicly revered soul, so no wonder Eastwood has chosen a safe pair of hands to embody the role. Step forward… Leonardo Dicaprio. The film does use flashbacks set in his final days, as he tries to restore his public persona by dictating his past experiences, but it’s fair to say that the story is primarily focused on the early years of Hoover. From the anarchic outset courtesy of 1919’s Bolshevik Bombings, that triggered off the fight against American communism, to the 1932 kidnapping saga involving the Lindberghs.. Hoover’s relentless nature to get justice is clear from the word go. Along the way suspicions are raised by key people around him who question his underhand tactics and unconventional methods, undermining his authority with only his stern secretary Helen Gandy initally fighting his corner.
Interwoven into the plotline, is the ‘suggestive’ relationship he shared with right hand man Clyde Tolson played by Arnie Hammer (The Social Network). Whilst it remains unclear whether it is historically accurate, Eastwood and his production cohorts imply that they are indeed homosexuals or in Hoover’s mother’s (Judi Dench) words ‘Daffodils’ but their sexuality is repressed.
Not that it was ever in doubt, J.Edgar’s main strength is Dicaprio’s powerhouse performance. Hammer is also terrific as Tolson, whose sensitive nature serves to be the perfect juxtaposition to the fiery personality of Hoover. Sadly, the female contingent are badly served by the material, with the great talents of Dench and Watts fade fatally into the background.
The overriding problem with J.Edgar is that it lacks any real punch in its storytelling, that bar a few memorable segments only the final third truly connects on an emotive level. The general structure eventually tangles itself in knots with its timeline shifting approach that sadly hinders the film’s pace, giving proceedings a laboured and meandering feel at times. Also it leaves many narrative threads dangling with no satisfying resolution and I won’t even get started on the OAP make up applied to our stars – distracting to say the least.
Eastwood’s intentions are admirable for sure and whilst his direction is immaculate as ever, we are ultimately left with a solid but overlong and slightly misguided film. As far as biopics go, it gets the job done. But only JUST!