Business rating: 2/5 stars (Two stars)
Star cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Naomi Watts, Judi Dench, Armie Hammer.
What’s Good: Leonardo DiCaprio’s performance; the engaging screenplay.
What’s Bad: The last few minutes of the drama, which seem unnecessary.
Verdict: J. Edgar is a good drama which will do fair business at the Indian box-office.
Loo break: None.
Watch or not?: Watch it for Leonardo DiCaprio’s acting and for the insight it offers into the American establishment.
Imagine Entertainment, Malpaso, Wintergreen Productions and Warner Bros.’ J. Edgar is the story of J. Edgar Hoover (Leonardo DiCaprio), who started out as a humble but meticulous investigator in the US Justice department, and went on to establish and reign over the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for many years.
The film is as much about Edgar’s contribution to the evolution of crime investigation in America in the early 20th century as it is about his megalomania and paranoia, fuelled by his narrow perspectives on communism and terrorism. When Edgar, a young investigator, breaks convention to push for a centralised database of criminals, tougher anti-criminal laws and the right to carry guns, he also, unfairly targets immigrants, African-Americans and even his own agents. On the one hand, he is a shrewd administrator, giving fillip to use of new technologies in crime investigation, on the other, he is also the one who commits perjury when it suits him.
When young, he proposes to a typist, Helen Gandy (Naomi Watts), who refuses marriage, but becomes his lifelong companion as his personal secretary – holding top secret files and wire taps that could bring down presidents. Later, when he meets a tall and charming lawyer, Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer), Edgar falls for him. He recruits Clyde and within a year-and-a-half, makes him the deputy director of the FBI.
In reality, Edgar trusted only his mother (Judi Dench), who trained him out of his stammering problem that afflicted him as a child, and served as his inspiration and his conscience, till she passed away.
While he despised president after president (Edgar served under eight presidents), he made sure, he kept their secrets in his infamous files, so that he could never be ousted from the FBI, where he served as the head for nearly 50 years.
The film is from Edgar’s point of view, as he narrates his biography (hagiography?), to a person from the FBI public relations department. It is then that his true personality emerges – that he is a man who fought for the truth but also compromised it throughout.
J. Edgar Review: Script Analysis
Dustin Lance Black’s story is interesting as it takes us through the various aspects of Edgar’s life, his illustrious career and the eventual downfall. But it is Black’s screenplay that takes the cake for being very well-written. Although the narrative frequently moves back and forth in Edgar’s life – from him as a young 24-year-old novice to him as a hardened, old mandarin – it makes for extremely engaging and intriguing viewing. As the narrative progresses, various aspects of Edgar’s personality, and of his relationship with the people around him, are revealed, and the audience’s interest is further piqued.
The only thing that will keep a section of the Indian audience from enjoying the drama is the lack of basic knowledge about American politics. One more negative point is that the film has a running time of over two hours, and hence, the last 10-15 minutes of the film do seem a little long-drawn, especially since the audience has already realised what’s going to happen in the end.
J. Edgar Review: Star Performances
Leonardo DiCaprio delivers a masterstroke as J. Edgar. He is simply superb, even in the scenes where he is shown to be much older than his actual age, by using prosthetics, of course. Naomi Watts, as Miss Gandy, gives a restrained performance. Armie Hammer (as Clyde Tolson) looks handsome but could have done better. Judi Dench (as Edgar’s mother) leaves a mark. Josh Lucas (as Charles Lindbergh), Josh Hamilton (as Robert Irwin), Ed Westwick (as Agent Smith) and others offer good support.
J. Edgar Review: Direction & Technical Aspects
Director Clint Eastwood proves yet again that he is a genius storyteller. His composition of shots, along with the background score, creates a sombre mood in the film, against which Edgar’s tumultuous life is played out. Tom Stern’s cinematography is suitable. Production design, by James J. Murakami, is very good. Costumes, by Deborah Hopper, are appropriate. Joel Cox and Gary Roach’s editing is sharp.
J. Edgar Review: The Last Word
On the whole, J. Edgar is a good fare which will receive fair appreciation in multiplexes in the Indian cities.