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J. Edgar - Film Review

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by Matt Elliot Taylor (subscribe)
"Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans." - John Lennon
Event: -
Copyright Warner Bros.


The epic nature of criminal investigation at a national level can only be epitomised by the epic character of powerful men. The importance of security, will and loyalty are explored in the world of criminal investigation in Clint Eastwood's period drama J. Edgar.

Leonardo DiCaprio returns to the big screen with his ambitious and energetic portrayal of J. Edgar Hoover, the man who founded the Federal Bureau of Investigation (or F.B.I. if you're too familiar with American film). Covering the 50-year period from where Hoover started helping and then leading the crusade against Communist infiltration and ending with his imminent death in 1972, the story is told in flashbacks. Set in the present day of the 1960s, Hoover is telling stories of his reign to a young agent who is seemingly writing some sort of biography on him called "The Untitled F.B.I. Story". As it begins in his younger days, we are reminded of some of the most prominent cases of the 1920s and 30s such as the Lindberg Baby Kidnapping and the John Dillinger Gang, but just as much attention is paid to the man behind closed doors, the somewhat speculative secrets of the man.

Hoover was driven by the need to succeed and change about the ways of an otherwise dysfunctional justice system, although his means were not always legal or moral he did what he believed was best for the country. As Hoover climbs the ladder of power, the film displays an unrelenting struggle for success in the face of political uncertainty, even if it means hurting those who are loyal to him such as his controlling mother (Dame Judi Dench), his right-hand man Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer), and his very devoted secretary Helen Gandy (Naomi Watts).

Under the helm of master-director Clint Eastwood (Gran Torino [2009], Million Dollar Baby [2004]), the film is always clear about where we are in the story and how it helps to further explain some of his actions. Jumping back and forth, Eastwood keeps us engaged with a sort of quiet energy probably due to an intelligent screenplay from Dustin Lance Black (the Academy Award-winning writer of Milk [2008]) and good solid performances all-round. The cinematography, as with all of Eastwood's films, is stunning. Shot with cool elegance, frequent Eastwood collaborator Tom Stern is so smooth in his style that it is very easy to watch. The drama finds a very good balance. There some very intense dramatic moments as well as some very touching ones, reminding us that underneath his concrete exterior, J. Edgar Hoover was still just a boy at heart, his mother's son.

The constant flashbacks may become irritating for some viewers as some scenes may seem a little tedious, particularly towards the end. Some of the content is also highly controversial and as a result Eastwood has copped a lot of flak from the powers that be for some of the things he's saying in the film. This is probably the main reason for it not being nominated for any Academy Awards.

Supremely directed and intelligently composed, J. Edgar is an engaging, stylish and provocative biopic that is not afraid to pull any punches in its portrait of one of the most powerful men in American history.

4.5 stars out of 5
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Why? A controversial and intelligent biopic of J. Edgar Hoover
When: January 26th (AUS)
Where: Your local cinema
Cost: Check your local cinema for details
Your Comment
It will be interesting to see. I love the mothers little boy bit. That in fact can be part of the programming for some. They didnt do anything wrong, they have always been their mothers little boy. Used often in legal playouts.

I dont wish to pre-empt what I think of it by interpreting one sentence from your review - yet will watch with interest. Thankyou. Well written.
by Jody Kimber (score: 2|829) 1887 days ago
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