DVD Review: J. Edgar

J. Edgar DVDSTUDIO: Warner | DIRECTOR: Clint Eastwood | CAST: Leonardo DiCaprio, Armie Hammer, Naomi Watts, Judi Dench, Jeffrey Donovan, Dermot Mulroney, Josh Lucas, Lea Thompson
BLU-RAY & DVD RELEASE DATE: 2/21/2012 | PRICE: DVD $28.98 , Blu-ray $35.99
BONUSES: featurette
SPECS: R | 137 min. | Biographical drama | 2.40:1 widescreen | Dolby Digital 5.1/DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 | English, French and Spanish subtitles

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie | Audio | Video | Overall

J. Edgar, Clint Eastwood’s (Hereafter) biopic on decades-long FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover, tries to cram an awful lot into a film that runs a little over two hours.

Historically speaking, Hoover’s reign as top cop runs from the days of Woodrow Wilson through Richard Nixon. So, we get pit stops from anarchistic threats against the government, Communism, John Dillinger, the Lindbergh kidnapping, the Kennedys, Martin Luther King and lots more.

J. Edgar

Leonardo DiCaprio is J. Edgar.

In the center of all the power and the fury is Hoover, the man, played throughout much of the film with quiet power by Leonardo DiCaprio (Inception), and by his obvious makeup throughout the rest of it. And in Eastwood and screenwriter Dustin Miller Black’s version of his story, Hoover’s sex life –or lack of it–is an important part of what makes him tick. Everyone has heard the stories about Hoover’s peccadilloes, and Eastwood and Black (sounds like a law firm) make sure they suggest every one of them. Cross-dressing? Check! Mother (Judi Dench, Jane Eyre) obsession? Check! Ongoing homosexual relationship with longtime aide Clyde Tolson (a very good Armie Hammer of The Social Network, as well as his caked on old age makeup). Check! Ongoing non-sexual relationship with longtime secretary Helen Gandy (Naomi Watts, Fair Game)? Check!

But the filmmakers don’t seem sure on how to handle this, suggesting salaciousness but remaining non-committal throughout. It seems that there are two ways to go with the material. While much attention is paid to period details and color schemes and camera technique used in the different eras the film is set in, dropping in on the seismic historical events is unsatisfying, warranting a broader canvas, perhaps better realized in a formidable cable miniseries. Meanwhile, the sex stuff is still there, so perhaps an all-out over-the-top campfest would have been the right call.

The problem is that one can’t see Eastwood or Black taking either route. What we have here, then, is a film that, ironically, doesn’t do history or Hoover justice. It’s a project that cries out for the unlikely collaboration of Martin Scorsese (Hugo) and John Waters (Hairspray).

The DVD offers only one supplemental piece, a featurette entitled“J. Edgar: A Complicated Man,” which offers the obligatory look at the real-life background of the man himself.

 

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About Irv

Irv Slifkin has been reviewing movies since before he got kicked off of his high school radio station for panning The Towering Inferno in 1974. He has written the books VideoHound’s Groovy Movies: Far-Out Films of the Psychedelic Era and Filmadelphia: A Celebration of a City’s Movies, and has contributed film reportage and reviews to such outlets as Entertainment Weekly, The Hollywood Reporter, Video Business magazine and National Public Radio.