Clint Eastwood's biopic of J. Edgar Hoover is a compelling portrait of a unique character in American history. The plot follows the controversial rise of J. Edgar Hoover (DiCaprio) to the director of the FBI--his anti-Communist crusades, criminal forensics, and government blackmail--and then analyzes how those same ideas eventually contributed to his public downfall. It tackles his personal relationships and his political ambition in equal parts, forming a tapestry of contradictions and dichotomies inherent in everybody but rarely projected onto the big screen with such clarity and precision. It chronicles his complex love for his mother (Dench), his secretary (Watts), and his number two man (Hammer) with tenderness and honesty instead of the gaudy spectacle and homophobic fantasies that seem to have incessantly plagued his reputation.
DiCaprio's understated performance is remarkable, providing depth and subtlety alongside rage and hidden feelings. He is able to generate empathy for a hard, rigid, oftentimes unlikeable man. His portrayal serves as the foundation for this phenomenal film. While the supporting cast throws in stellar performances, they quickly fall by the wayside in the grand scheme of things. Without DiCaprio in the lead, J. Edgar would still be a good movie, but it would be a forgettable movie as well.
The movie has its fair share of imperfections. Eastwood did not do enough to lift
the screenplay out of its decidedly literary beginnings and translate it to the medium of
film. There are often "profound" ramblings by Hoover--unrelated to the images
on screen--that were arbitrarily lodged in anytime
there wasn't dialogue. The timeline would flip between eras too eagerly, making it difficult to get a sure footing on the time and place of certain events. The cinematography was post-processed too much, giving it an inconsistently old-timey look that felt disingenuous. Minor side characters, like Robert Kennedy and Richard Nixon, were cast to mimic the famous political figures instead of to act as them. They focused on the accent instead of the words and the motivations behind the words. Despite these minor niggles, this is a terrific film and should not be missed.
IMDb link: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1616195/