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'J. Edgar' delivers hit after rocky start

By Jordan Wright
On November 15, 2011


I'd be lying if I said that I didn't go into "J. Edgar" pretty excited. A Clint Eastwood directed biopic that comes with all the trappings one would expect out of an Oscar season darling, not the least of which was Leonardo DiCaprio, who has been making a real name for himself as an actor over the last few years? Sign me up. I left the theater not quite getting what I was expecting, but still enjoying it rather well.

The film tells of the accomplishments of its titular subject, J. Edgar Hoover, played by DiCaprio, who is responsible for the FBI as it is known today, as well as the implementation of forensics into crime investigation. The story is told by Hoover – in the final days of his life – to his biographer, beginning at his early days as a new agent at the Bureau of Investigation and ending in the final days of his life as he confronts many of the issues that he has now reminded himself of as an old man.

The thing about "J. Edgar" that is sure to throw most people for a loop is its nonlinear structure. The film has a tendency to jump around a lot, going from old Hoover to young Hoover no less than three times within the first 25 minutes alone. The editing of the film can be rather jarring at first, as the story never seems to progress beyond the Bureau of Investigation's headquarters before jumping to another point in time. Eventually, the film strikes its balance, resulting in a midsection that is more tightly focused than its spastic opening.

The cast delivers top notch performances, selling the characters of Hoover's life story as real people, something that I find is hard to capture in films that are based on true stories. Armie Hammer as Clyde Tolson – Hoover's partner, best friend, and alleged gay lover – gives a fantastic performance, capturing that level between platonic and romance to give the illusion that whatever relationship the two had was incredibly ambiguous. Dame Judi Dench as Hoover's mother also turns in an incredible performance, selling herself as a good mother that loves her son but is stuck in rather dated ways of thinking, as were most people at the time.

DiCaprio's performance as Hoover however, is what steals the show. At first, I grew nervous as Hoover's narration began, as I could only hear DiCaprio giving a J. Edgar Hoover impersonation. As the film progresses however and as the audience gradually watches Hoover grow older and older, DiCaprio begins to slip into the role to the point in which he barely becomes noticeable. His spectacular performance combined with the excellent makeup work creates an illusion that, alone, makes the film worth watching.

"J. Edgar" is not a perfect film. Its jumpy editing early on can be a turn-off from the get-go and Naomi Watts as secretary Helen Gandy feels somewhat wasted as if she was willing to do more but was held back from doing so. In the end, I was genuinely surprised by the insight that I had gained into Hoover as a person. He was an interesting yet controversial figure that has contributed much to law enforcement as we know it with an intriguing story of his own. 

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