Tuesday, February 21, 2012
Video review: "J. Edgar"
For a biopic about one of the most polarizing political figures of the 20th century, “J. Edgar” is a curiously flat affair. It’s got great production values, a standout performance by Leonardo DiCaprio, and generally feels like a great big chunk of Hollywood ham.
The central thesis of screenwriter Dustin Lance Black and director Clint Eastwood is that J. Edgar Hoover, who wielded enormous power for five decades as head of the FBI, was secretly a closeted gay man who carried on a lifelong chaste love affair with Clyde Tolson, his best friend and right-hand man.
This may or may not be true – the historical evidence for Hoover’s alleged homosexuality is sketchy at best. Those who knew him best say his relationship with Tolson was close but brotherly. And the now-ubiquitous characterization of his penchant for cross-dressing is based on an account of a single event by a convicted perjurer.
But the great truth the filmmakers miss is that even if Hoover was attracted to men, this would be the least interesting thing about him as a person.
The story slips forward and backward in time, portraying how Hoover’s passion for collecting secrets, and leveraging them to gain political power, was his way of misdirecting others from exposing his own (as he saw them) weaknesses.
Some of the supporting roles seem oversized, while others are desperately short-shrifted. The most notable is Helen Gandy (Naomi Watts), whom young Hoover proposed marriage to on their third date. She demurred, but agreed to become his personal secretary, a position she would hold for the next five decades.
Gandy is omnipresent but unimportant, someone who lurks in the background until the filmmakers feel a need for Hoover to have a moment of self-reflection.
“J. Edgar” is a fine-looking movie and generally well-acted. But ultimately the film employs the underhanded tactics of its subject: using shadowy whisperings about Hoover's personal life to paint a skewed portrait of his public one.
Video extras are the same for Blu-ray and DVD editions, and are limited to a single featurette, “J. Edgar: The Most Powerful Man in the World.”
Movie: 2 stars out of four
Extras: 1.5 stars