J. Edgar

(2011)

Genres: Biography, Drama

Review: J. Edgar

Transcript for Review: J. Edgar

 

CHRISTY:
And I’m Christy Lemire of the Associated Press. We're starting out this week with Clint Eastwood's latest, "J. Edgar," an impeccably crafted film which explores both the career and the personal life of the longtime FBI director J. Edgar Hoover. DiCaprio stars as this influential yet enigmatic figure, whose chief goal in life was to gain respect and adulation. Once he rose to power, he demanded it of his subordinates.
 
The script from Dustin Lance Black -- an Oscar winner for another biographical drama, "Milk" -- jumps back and forth in time between Hoover dictating his memoirs and the events themselves that shaped him, and the bureau. One of these was the kidnapping of Charles Lindbergh's baby in 1932. 
 
Hoover was just learning how to throw his weight around. But one of the main people who influenced him _ and became his lifelong companion _ was his second-in-command, Clyde Tolson, played by Armie Hammer. They could be tender with each other but they also had intense fights.
 
"J. Edgar" is a historical epic wrapped around a love story. That's what provides the real emotional pull here. Eastwood's films are, of course, very efficient from a narrative standpoint. They always feel meaty and solid. He's amassed a great cast, including Judi Dench and Naomi Watts. But the repressed romance between Hoover and Tolson, which has long been suggested, creates major chemistry and a great deal of sadness and regret. DiCaprio and Hammer are both tremendous here -- my thumb is very much up.
 
IGNATIY:  My thumb is up as well.  I think there are a few things about this movie that might irk some viewers. You know a few potential deal breakers I think um one of them is the make-up, which doesn’t really work.  I mean they both, they look like wax statues.
 
CHRISTY: It’s kind of distractingly bad old man make-up yeah.
 
IGNATIY: And uh the same thing with the actors who play for example Richard M. Nixon and Bobby Kennedy.  I think what they’re really doing are impressions.  They’re not performances, but regardless of that, I mean what a great meeting of a director and a subject.  Because Eastwood, you know, here’s this guy he started his career as an actor playing these people who are above the law.  You know like The Man With No Name or Dirty Harry, and then he spent his career as a director making movies about how those people should be obsolete. And I mean Hoover is kind of like the perfect subject for him.  He’s this guy with a lot of self-righteousness, and you know, who’s fighting a very real evil.  One of the really interesting things to me about this movie is that this evil threat you know Hoover is paranoid about at least at the beginning of the film is very clear that it’s real.
 
CHRISTY:  But Eastwood doesn’t judge him or deify him.  Right? I mean we see all the secret files Hoover had on friends and enemies using his spitefulness, his pettiness, his paranoia, but also his misery and his inner torment and his loneliness.  You see it all.
 
IGNATIY:  It’s a sympathetic portrayal. He’s ultimately a tragic figure, and I mean, you know you have this problem.  How do you make a tragedy about a guy who never had a downfall?  Hoover died.  He was still head of the FBI. 
 
CHRISTY: But, he was alone and never happy. Exactly.
 
IGNATIY: That’s the thing. You make the tragedy completely emotional.  I think ultimately what’s tragic about the Hoover character in this film is that he becomes so obsessed with evil that he can’t really tell human weakness from evil, and it sort of becomes his shame that he has any kind of weak side.
 
CHRISTY: And he’s like a social misfit.  He tries to date Naomi Watts.  It’s very awkward.
 
IGNATIY: Yeah, and he proposes to her after a few days.
 
CHRISTY: Then he and Armie Hammer are amazing together just by holding a glance just a little bit too long or by holding hands in back of the car.  There’s so much chemistry, so much tension there.  They’re great together.
 
IGNATIY: They’re great.  I mean Hammer’s performance I think is in this film really wonderful, and it’s completely different from what he does in The Social Network.