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Review: "J. Edgar"

Disclaimer #1: This reviews briefly talks about the ending but... duh. It's history.
Disclaimer #2: Everyone has biases and the only people who tend to get in trouble about them are the ones that admit them like me. Generally speaking I think biopics are the dullest of film genres and it takes a strong artistic voice to overcome their persistent nagging limitations.  Generally speaking I do not love the work of Clint Eastwood. Though many critics feel duty bound to praise even his most obvious misfires, I've been accused of the exact opposite approach though I liked all four of his modern Best Picture grabs... (just not in the way Oscar did.)
Disclaimer #3: Clint Eastwood makes me sad because -- though this is not his fault -- he has ruined many famous film critics for me. My favorite living filmmaker is Pedro Almodóvar but I didn't try to pretend that Broken Embraces, Live Flesh, or The Skin I Live In were masterpieces. I don't trust anyone who can't see Eastwood's weaknesses as a filmmaker, his inability to vary up his visual ideas, the uneven "we did it in one take!" acting (it shows), and so on...

If you've already tuned out I understand and forgive you. That's too many disclaimers but one must approach the ceaselessly idolized Clint Eastwood with caution. Extreme caution is also recommended when approaching J. Edgar Hoover, the infamous half century FBI overlord and mean SOB. "J. Edgar" who is played from sixteen (?) to death by L. DiCaprio is also, as it turns out, an unreliable narrator. J Edgar (2011) is fully aware of this though weirdly cagey about when to reveal it. Rather than encouraging us to look at the man and his actions with clinical wide eyes from the start, it encourages much sympathy with groaner on-the-button lines like 'no amount of admiration can fill the place where love should be.' In fact, it embraces the title man's point of view to such an extent that he narrates the entire movie -- that old groaner device of "telling his story for posterity." His point of view is the only point of view so even his life long "friend" Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer) is first viewed only as a menacing shadow behind closed doors, something to be ashamed of. After two plus hours of sympathising and listening to apologies about his behavior (but his mommy hated the gays -- naturally he was fucked up!) he is clumsily retrofitted at the tail end as the movie's Keyser Soze of sorts, only less purely evil on account of all the sad little boy business. But yes, he's been lying all along... or fibbing, if you're still feeling sympathetic.

Though the screenplay needed another few drafts as badly as some of the minor performances needed additional takes, there are brief flashes of the movie it could have been. The Charles Lindbergh and John Dillinger storylines, for example, are enough to fill movies by themselves. We know this because they've made for better movies than J. Edgar. Despite decades of evidence warning filmmakers about this exact "EVERYTHING!" approach, J. Edgar falls for the typical bio-traps. Movies are shorter than novels and definitely shorter than entire human lives and must thus choose which elements are worth dramatizing. Instead J. Edgar, like so many bios before it, crams itself full with cliff notes instead of truly absorbing the text and breathing its ideas. J. Edgar clings to many of the famous storylines and its own suppositions about them as desperately as Hoover clings to Tolson. But it's not just their manly love that's unconsummated; this whole movie has blue balls. Just as you become invested in one chapter or detail, you've lept ahead or backwards and on to another. No one involved in the production ever seems to decided what they found interesting about the material other than "ALL OF IT!"

For their part, the actors do what they can with the unfocused material. Leonardo DiCaprio, ever fond of playing anguished men, gives it his all but doesn't reach the charismatic precision or depth of feeling that he can hit when the material is more focused on entertainment than on SERIOUS ACTING. (In short, we're losing DiCaprio the movie star to DiCaprio the 'Master Thespian' and this is a crying shame.) Armie Hammer is more than adept at the dreamy Ivy League gay catch he plays in the early scenes but loses his way once he's playing a character well beyond his own age. He's swathed in lbs and lbs of prosthetics (maybe he couldn't see his marks? Why do makeup artists think "old" means 130? Why does he look older than Judi Dench?) Naomi Watts, who needed anything but yet one more bleak movie on her resume, is barely consequential at all. Though she embodies "Loyalty" -- we know because J Edgar tells us just that in the constant narration -- you could leave her on the cutting room floor and not lose much. Finally, though she's in little of it, Judi Dench walks away with the whole thing with her devastatingly unsympathetic mother-son chitchat about "daffodils". It's obvious and cruel code for "don't be a fairy!" though she knows her boy already is one. 

"Is that legal?"In the end, though, what burdens the movie as heavily as the extreme prosthetics must have weighed on Hammer and DiCaprio is its utter joylessness. Again Clint Eastwood dully plinks away on the piano at key moments rather than hiring a composer who could have elevated this movie with something more robust and filled with different shades of feeling. The murky cinematography by Tom Stern, is just as monotonous in feeling in addition to being practically monochromatic. Another Eastwood picture all drained of color. Black and white movies are among the most beautiful movies ever made so if you want to make a black and white movie, have at it; consummate the love affair! But none of this "color is too flowery!" business.

Even the early most playful scenes wherein J. Edgar and Clyde are becoming intertwined lack the spark that you can only see in Armie Hammer's eyes. You could stretch and say that the film's entirely bleak aesthetic is meant to represent the joylessness of Hoover's life only if you've never seen a recent Clint Eastwood. That's just how they always look. The movie is an über-drag, long before J Edgar is softly whimpering in his mamma's dress.  D+

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Reader Comments (48)

hi nat,good unbisaed review and i agree with your points on his music and the 1 take acting,as good as sean penn and angelina were in his films they needed an extra take here n their or someone to tell them to dial it down to 5.

November 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMARK

Wow, what a harsh review! While J Edgar wasn't a perfect movie, I thoroughly enjoyed it. I also have a disclaimer: I like, or in many cases love, all of Clint Eastwood's movies.

November 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAllan

Thanks for the review, Nate. I haven't seen the movie yet but will soon. Eastwood is a very uneven director for me--I really liked Unforgiven and Letters from Iwo Jima, and I admire Mystic River although I personally think it has some rather glaring plot/storyline problems. But then there are movies like Gran Torino that just make me cringe.

I was wondering what your take is on the chances of Leo getting a Best Actor Oscar nomination. Everyone seems convinced he's a lock for a nod, but I'm trying to think of an example when there was a Best Actor nominee from a movie that has such a low critical score on RT and Metacritic (not that I'm one of those RT/MC slaves, but their numbers can serve as a pretty good general indicator of a film's overall reception). Other than Sean Penn, maybe, in "I Am Sam"... but then Leo is LEO, and the Academy often goes for that capital A Acting, so maybe he's going to emerge as the film's one biggish nomination?

November 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRobert A.

I know Clint doesn't rewrite scripts that he decides to direct but I didn't know about the one take thing (which explains some of the acting in this film). Anyway, I saw J.Edgar on Wednesday and while I gave it a better grade than you did (I gave it a C), I pretty much agree with everything you said. A truly dull film with a bloated and obvious script.

However, I thought the cinematography was effective at times and liked Watts' role (she's the only one that bought any type of humanity to the film without going into theatrics... which was my biggest problem with Hammer's performance). Still, it wasn't enough to save it.

November 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDaniel Armour

"uber drag" is right. It is simply boring. Even Leo wasn't interesting or engaging at all. I disagree on Dench though, she was terrible, I think this was one for paying the mortage.

November 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMurtada

I only ever liked Unforgiven. A masterpiece I think.

November 12, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterbrandz

You know I love Eastwood, and although I haven't seen this movie yet, I knew it was a bad idea. Clint is always greater in more focused movies, in which the action is set up in four days or maybe a few months. He is not very good in telling stories of giants - he, like John Ford, is fit for the little lives, delicate American stories, humble souls.

But what about Oscars? And DiCaprio?

November 12, 2011 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

"Generally speaking I think biopics are the dullest of film genres and it takes a strong artistic voice to overcome their persistent nagging limitations."

That's pretty much how I feel. I felt that way with Milk, too. I much prefer the 'snapshot' biopic to the 'here's the characters whole life' biopic as well.

November 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRJ

I recently saw Gone Baby Gone for the first time and remembered what you wrote after seeing The Town - that Ben Affleck could become the next Eastwood, i.e. actor-turned-director whose films range from okay to bad and are still praised by many. I'm totally afraid of the same thing now.

November 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJan

@RJ: It's funny. I actually thought Milk was one of the more focused biopics. His goal of getting the bill shut down seem to be the main thrust of the film. Sure, it included some other stuff but it added to what was going on during that period of time in his life.

November 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDaniel Armour


Your reaction if this wins the Oscar will be...?

November 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew R.

@Danielo Armour

I suppose ... and I liked Milk about as much as it is possible for me to like a movie like that, but I guess by 'snapshot' I meant something much more finite. I still felt like 'Milk' was a little too much telling for me since it focused on the entirety of his political career. I prefer a biopic that is focused on a short, specific amount of time. I haven't seen it, so I don't know how interesting it will turn out to be, but I'm talking about more of the 'My Week with Marilyn' approach. Or, say, the approach they're taking with the Penn Badgley/Jeff Buckle movie.

November 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRJ

I Am Sam got slightly worse reviews. It was also released on December 28, 2001. I'm predicting that the extra month and a half means J. Edgar gets 0 nominations. And, amazingly, I'd guess 50/50 for the upset nomination due to the intriguing approach to the subject matter, the great reviews and the astounding gross (reasonable expectation: $15 m. Actual gross: More than double that) considering modern audiences are so averse to weighty subject matter.

November 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

As a fan of Eastwood, I completely understand and appreciate your take on his work as a director. Gran Torino, for instance, was worthwhile because of him brushing off the "Clint" persona for another go. Almost every other performance in the film stank, however. Some of them were endearingly bad (I didn't mind the Hmong kids, who were nonetheless pretty dreadful), others were just bad bad (the priest, Kowalski's kids/grandkids, etc.). He often picks screenplays that are either over-long (Paul Haggis' self-indulgent Flags of Our Fathers) or in need of polishing (Peter Morgan's surprisingly touching but somewhat tin-eared Hereafter), and then fails to polish them before shooting. Finally, his tendency toward monochrome borders on the ridiculous (it worked for Million Dollar Baby and Letters from Iwo Jima; not so much for Flags or Changeling).

Long story short: I like Eastwood's work considerably more than most people (in my circles), but he has some very annoying habits that have sunk or nearly sank a few promising films.

I'm not particularly eager to see J. Edgar for many of the reasons you describe, Nate. It looks like a joyous lump of celluloid that promises no great revelations about art or its subject. I sat out Invictus for similar reasons, so I don't mind doing it again.

November 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterW.J.

A joyless lump of celluloid, that is.

November 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterW.J.

My favorite living filmmaker is Pedro Almodóvar but I didn't try to pretend that Broken Embraces

Stop. The fact that everyone goes Gaga for Volver (2006) while allowing Broken Embraces (2009) to be viewed as the evil red-headed stepchild is sad. The best thing about Volver is the story not involving Penelope Cruz but the people close to her. I remember reading all the negative stuff about Broken Embraces, being prepared for the worst. Once the movie finished as was confused at all the negative responses to the picture. Cruz should've been a supporting actress nominee behind Embraces not Nine. I don't know how to defend that movie from the detractors since I haven't seen all of Pedro's films. What I do know is that if you work your way backwards you'll be disappointed. The oldest Almodovar film I've seen is 1990's Tie Me Up Tie Me Down. I didn't think Antonio was anything special in it acting wise and the film left me a bit cold. Although I love All About My Mother (1999), I saw Take to Her (2002) first, making Mother the lesser movie experience for me.

November 12, 2011 | Unregistered Commenter//3rtful

W.J. -- Totally agree with everything you said. I consider myself an Eastwood fan, but these weird style tics that he keeps repeating are now officially driving me crazy. The washed out cinematography especially needs to go right now, even though it at least makes some sense for "J. Edgar" (1920s, possibly echoes the black and white movies that are repeatedly featured, etc.). If this movie had been filmed in glorious Technicolor, I would have rejoiced, even though it would have been totally wrongheaded. Enough with the monochrome!

This movie has to be one of the more egregious examples of telling and not showing that I've seen recently. Someone refers to Hoover's nickname "Speedy" as coming from the way he talks. Er, what? He talks the same as everyone else, except for the occasional stutter. Hoover had a rapid delivery, true, but why don't we see that? That's just one example, but there are others. What a total missed opportunity.

But because I hate to be totally negative, I will say that I really liked the costume design. Not as much as the similar-period "Public Enemies," but far superior to "Changeling."

November 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLiz N.

It takes a good critic to acknowledge his or her own biases going in. Very well-written and measured review. You really hit on the problem with Eastwood early on in the review, which is partly his own fault, but mostly the fault of those around him. I remember standing at AFI Fest last year. There were about a million conversations going on, naturally. Myself and a very nice woman standing in front of me started talking about different films we enjoyed and she asked if I had seen the new Eastwood (Hereafter). I told her I had not and I was kind of dreading it, given the early word from critics I trusted and his general output of late. Then she said "Oh, honey. You can't admit to not liking Eastwood in this town. It's like heresy! You've got to stop that!" This illustrates the problem. The man is an 81-year-old legend with four Oscars, so in his mind he has very little to prove (not that filmmaking should ever be about "proving" anything, per se).

The people around him make so many allowances. Another web critic/pundit who I actually really respect and shall remain nameless in recently espousing his/her love for J.Edgar said that Eastwood's worst is still better than most. Even if that's true, are we grading on a curve? If we fancy a filmmaker a genius, doesn't giving them passes on mediocre or shoddy work only diminish that genius? The filmmakers I tend to love don't hit it out of the park every time. There is a wide margin between their best and their worst because their best hit heights of excellence that are staggering and seldom replicated (Woody Allen, Todd Haynes, Spike Lee, Roman Polanski, The Coen Bros, PT Anderson, FF Coppola, etc, etc, etc). I like Eastwood. I think to call him inept as a director is false. I am also inclined to agree that his work (and Christopher Nolan's as well, but another story...) has brought out the worst in film criticism in the past decade.

November 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterThe Pretentious Know It All

Robert A: I don't want to live in a world where Leo is given a Best Actor nomination out of some kind of sense of obligation, but Fassbender is snubbed for his miraculous turn in Shame.

November 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMark

the pretentious know it all yeah, that's one of my problems with Eastwood. The hyperbole makes it hard to praise him even when he deserves it (like, say, Millino Dollar Baby) because it's just so fucking over the top all the time even when the movies aren't good.

Only with the true masters (like Almodovar or Malick or that type) are their worst still better than most people's movies. Eastwood's bad movies are just bad movies ;) The filmmakers he gets compared to... it just makes me weep. Nobody who wasn't already a legend before he stepped behind the camera would get that much praise for inconsistent occassionally very good movies. and definitely nobody who was that standard visually as a director would get as much praise as he gets for his visuals. i mean Denby compared this to Bertolucci!!!! Nathaniel wept.

November 12, 2011 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Have to say I disagree. Really enjoyed the movie. Totally drags in bits and Watts character is barely in there (prob for the best), but I thought the scenes between Clyde and Hoover were dynamite. Cinematography was great. Score was iffy at best. But my favorite part was after the assured monolouge (see trailer), was Hoover waiting to see Nixon and saying "alrighty" when the secretary showed him in. So funny. Not a great gem, but enjoyable and my fav Eastwood since Letters

November 12, 2011 | Unregistered Commenteralex bbats

Live Flesh and Broken Embraces are brilliant. End of story.

November 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterArden

This review is bringing some really weird fans out of the wordwork. "End of story". Lol.

Fantastic review, Nathaniel. That is all.

November 12, 2011 | Unregistered Commentercaroline


November 12, 2011 | Unregistered Commentercaroline

You had this damn review written before you even saw the film. NEXT!

November 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterYan

Oscar chances?????

November 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMARK

So can we stop letting Dustin Lance Black write movies now? His script was by far the worst thing in Milk (the fact that that movie was any kind of artistic success has a lot to do with Gus Van Sant, Harris Savides, and the actors), and it seems like his boxy hamminess torpedoed this film (and unfortunately Eastwood is too dour to elevate this material).

November 13, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterbfabz

I agree, Leo's just gunning for that Oscar no one really needs. Talented, but mislead.
But never fear, Tarantino is here >:). I expect big things from Leo's molestor, slave-owner, pervert...pimp in Django Unchained. Hey, if that's what it takes to break his slump...

November 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAnthony A.

I agree with a lot of things people are saying about Eastwood, but not the visual criticism. The ar a lot of filmmakes who have a visuak style and use this same style in every movie, because,you know, they choose stories that fit their style. You can't complain about the colors of Fellini when he films ancient Rome and his childood Rimini with the same light. It's his style. Clint likes his movies dark but that's not a problem:he is not making glam rock musicals or romantic comedies. The monochromatic thing really really works for him and his movies are very beautiful, visually.

November 13, 2011 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

One more thing: monochromy is not the same of black and white. By refusing black and white and still filming only in dark tones, Stern makes you miss the colors. Nobody expects to see colors in a black and white movie, but when you have a color movie that refuses to show you these colirs,that's disturbing. When you film like Eastwood the lack of colors works for a very specific effect. Then, joyless becomes something positive to say about his movies.

November 13, 2011 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

Really interesting review and not surprising to be honest. I have to say I was really looking forward to this movi,e but after seeing the trailer it looked dull as dishwater! I am not a fan of Clint Eastwood either and often find his movies to be overlong and unimaginative in their direction.

I think Leonardo Dicaprio is a great actor but he seems to be better when playing fictional characters rather than in biopics. Does it mean I won't see the movie? Probably not, but I think it is more likely to be a 'to rent' film rather than a trip to the cinema for me.

November 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLia

Fantastic review Nat!
I haven't seen the film but already feels like I did. I subscribe everything you say about critics praising Eastwood even in his lesser efforts. I wonder if those critics (many of which I admire and respect) would react to his films if they didn't know the director. I bet they wouldn't use the words "master" "author" or "complex" so freely. It's like we've seen a different movie when Eastwood is concerned. As for Almodovar I must say I always expect more from his movies. Since I saw Law of desire back in the day I fell in love with him. Broken embraces and the skin I live in have been disappointing movie experiences for me though, but the next movie he directs, I'll be first in line to see. Ah, first loves.

Regarding biopics I also like the short period approach like in Capote or The Queen rather than the have it ALL. I don't recall seeing a good all life biopic ever. I remember when I was a teen and went to see Gandhi because my teacher promised to give us an extra credit if we showed him the movie ticket. I only wished I never did. What a dreadful experience. Traumatic. To this day I havent recovered from that boring afternoon.

And yes, what about the drained colors? Colors mean emotions in movies. If you can't or won't use them, just shoot in black and white! But again you have said all this better in your review. I'm so glad you did it so eloquently.

November 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSeisgrados

Your review hits the mark perfectly. I even agree about Dench's scene, which was the only part of the movie that clicked at all. I don't mind Eastwood as a director, but I am very aware that he is nowhere near as great as the Academy makes him out to be.

As for the ruined critics, I think they sometimes drink the Kool Aid but it doesn't bother me too much. I'm surprised to see defenses of Broken Embraces here in the comments, which I thought was OK, and none for The Skin I Live In. I actually think the new film could go down as one of his greats. All his best traits are bottled up/unleashed in it. It'll be joining Law of Desire, Bad Education and Volver in my collection. Getting off topic though...

November 13, 2011 | Unregistered Commentereurocheese

I don't mind Eastwood's monochromatic color palette. It's his thing, and it gives his films a distinctive style. If he wanted to do black and white films, I'm sure that's what he'd do. But he doesn't. And personally I'm hoping that "J. Edgar" gets in for cinematography at least. Makeup? Hell no. But this inane makeup branch snubbed "Monster" and found ways to nominate "Norbit," "Click," and "A Beautiful Mind"'s horrible makeup jobs instead. Don't think for a second that they're somehow above nominating "J. Edgar" into that illustrious lineup too.

And to this reveiw, yikes. I guess I liked it far more than most. The makeup was horrible I'll gladly admit, but I thought that both DiCaprio and Hammer more than earned their nominations. Eastwood's done better in the past, so I don't think voters will be clamoring to reward him again. And Black was a recent winner for "Milk," so ditto for him. His screenplay's warts and all approach was a nice history lesson of sorts for me. I didn't know a good bit of what was presented in the film. I know that I shouldn't look for films to educate me, but this one did, even if much was speculation in terms of Hoover and Colson's bond. Just getting a sliver of Hoover's life would have been shortchanging his full story. Though maybe it would have satisfied more people if this had been a miniseries instead. This may not be best picture level, but it almost got there.

November 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBillBill

Exactly right about the colour. The best thing about Black and White films is you imagine what the colours would be, giving a unique amount of personal interpretation.

November 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

I thought I was one of the few movie fanatics who didn't love Eastwood's work. But I feel I need to see this film because of the subject matter though it sounds as awful as the trailer makes it look.

As for Almodovar, I need to rewatch Live Flesh but I did think that Broken Embraces was underrated. Wonderful acting.

November 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGabriel Oak

I don't get the trashing of Black's script for Milk. I thought he script worked beautifully. But Mllk was well-done biopic overall.

November 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGabriel Oak

My interest in this movie is really waning. I actually tend to like biopics, and I like Leo (though part of me wonders if I just like the movies he's been involved with). I thought I liked Eastwood, but I realized recently that I haven't been motivated to see a film of his since Million Dollar Baby. That's a lot of avoidance for me. Anyway, a lot of the word of mouth/reviews are off-putting.

I think the monochromatic Eastwood cinematography is a fairly recent development, perhaps commencing with Million Dollar Baby. It's been a few years since I last watched Mystic River, but I remember a lot of really bright, colorful shots in that film (particularly the famous shot of Sean Penn screaming). The Bridges of Madison County had a lot of bright outdoors shots as well.

November 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne


I have yet to see The Skin I Live In. Doubt I won't like it. New Almodovar is better than new everyone else.

November 13, 2011 | Unregistered Commenter//3rtful

Nat, I liked "J. Edgar" more than you did, (and presumably like biopics more than you do )though I didn't find it overwhelmingly great. I did admire DiCaprio's performance; the accent, which had dismayed me in the trailer, seemed OK over the course of the movie.

Unfortunately, words cannot discribe just how awful Hammer's makeup was as the old Tolson...reminded me of someone who's had boiling oil poured over his face. The younger Tolson was OK, though. Dench was rather nice in the nastiest role she's had since "Notes on a Scandal"...and those two roles had a lot in common, IMHO.

What kind of sank it for me was the bad casting for the subsidiary historical characters. Bobby Kennedy was an awful imitation, and really didn't look like him, the film's Charles Lindbergh really didn't look like the real-life one...just to name those two.

Still, I prefer "J. Edgar" to some other recent Eastwood films. It's better than "Invictus" (or is it that I can identify more with the historical period than I can with South African rugby); it's MILES better than the awful "Gran Torino" or the execrable "Changeling."

@3rtful, I DEFINITELY agree with you about "Broken Embraces" being MUCH better than "Volver."

November 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBill_the_Bear

I hope you're all aware of the fact that Eastwood is often seen and praised as a true auteur in Europe, specially in France and Spain. It's not only an obsession of the Academy!

November 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

Firstly, The Skin I Live In *is* a masterpiece.

Second, I haven't seen J. Edgar, so I can't opine on the film, or this review, but generally I find the reflexively positive "another Clint MASTERPIECE" reviews to be no more irritating than the reflexively negative, "argh, not the drained color scheme AGAIN" reviews. the fact of the matter is that his last several movies have received severely mixed/leaning negative notices, so i don't even *really* get where this whole "the positive hype colors my reaction" justification comes from - or why the detractors can't look at the totality of the reactions rather than getting their hackles up because a handful of Eastwood partisans love everything he does.

November 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRoark

I have to agree with others that Volver, while more fun, is not as great as The Skin I Live In or Broken Embarces, and Cruz is better in Broken Embraces. Volver is a great star turn, but she has to do so much more in BE. She's basically playing four characters, and she pulls it off.

November 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

Agreed on every single one of your points.

If I were rewriting it, I'd definitely make the film like Atonement. We see the lies/stretch of the truth through Hoover's point of view and then at the end we reveal what really happened. The jumping around didn't work and just made things confusing.

November 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMichael B

Yeah, yeah, yeah... but what we all really want to know is, do we now get to induct Armie Hammer into the Dead Wives Club?

November 14, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterdenny

What Roark said. To a T.

November 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterArkaan

Good Lord, I just watched J. Edgar...am I wrong for loving Leo in it and thinking he salvaged a character out of an awful script?

November 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAnthony A.

J Edgar is an agenda film. As such, it can't be considered a biography or anything factual. It is historical fiction. The film's problem is primarily a script problem. Dustin Lance Black has an agenda (he always does), and he needs a script doctor to turn out a coherent screenplay. This time, for whatever reason, Eastwood chose to direct the film without fixing the script. It needed to be much more linear; non-linear stories are very hard to tell coherently. It needed to be cut; it was a half hour too long; reducing repetitive themes would have helped a great deal. The actors, except for DiCaprio, had little to do. Armie Hammer, who has yet to show what he can do, had only one good scene, and he was way over the top. His character's loyalty to Hoover is virtually inexplicable, given the treatment he was receiving. With his looks, Hammer's character could have any guy he wants. We need to see why he stuck with Hoover, and we didn't. Judy Dench hardly needs the work, and the character was so undefined that it should have been beneath her dignity to play it. The daffodil scene was the only chance she had to flesh out the role. She did so quite well, but it came out of nowhere. Up to then she had been relegated to giving Edgar unsolicited advice, and suddenly she was skewering him. Naomi Watts' character professed that she wanted a career, not a marriage. Fair enough, it would have been a very remarkable achievement for its time. Do we ever see the upshot of this? No. All we see is her unrequited loyalty to Edgar and nothing about where it did or didn't get her. And as for DiCaprio... well, okay, now we know he can play old guys. We probably knew that already, but now we have proof. He was good, but it was a caricature. And no, that's not Oscar-worthy work. He's been much better. (The Departed) For the most part, the cameos were wasted. (If you aren't going to give a recognizable actor in a small role something significant to do, then the job should go to someone who really needs it.) I'm an Eastwood fan, a DiCaprio fan, a Dustin Lance Black fan. But this one was a misfire. I'd like to say it didn't need to be, but that probably isn't so. Grade: C.

November 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMichael Harrah
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