watching j. edgar (the latest film by director clint eastwood and starring leonardo dicaprio), i got the feeling i was watching a glorified version of the history channel. the movie, like the shows on the history or biography channels, depicts the important moments during the career of j. edgar hoover, but does so at the sacrifice of a compelling narrative.
all of the characters and plot lines of the film offer no help in exposing the motivating factors of j. edgar's illustrious if not controversial career. naomi watts (helen gandy), for example, is introduced early in the film, is quickly courted by hoover, and when she refuses his advances, serves the rest of the film (and hoover's career) as hoover's personal secretary/confidant. the character sheds no light on hoover's personality or story other than to show that hoover had little social skills and lacked any real friends, a trait that (like many of the components of the film) is illustrated then never fully fleshed out in the narrative.
the other two main characters in the film offer a little more counterweight to hoover. armie hammer plays clyde tolson, hoover's emotional life partner if you will. this character, like helen gandy, mostly serves as a plot device that allows us to explore hoover's sexual preferences.
for any real psychological reveal, we must look at the relationship between hoover and his mother, played by dame judi dench. as i watched this film, i kept being reminded of hitchcock's psycho if only because of hoover's infatuation with his mother (and possibly some wearing of dead mother's clothes). their relationship helps explain some of hoover's anti-social, controlling behavior and possibly his disinterest with women, but, it offers no insight into hoover's career motivations.
in fact, it is never really explained why hoover became involved with law enforcement in the first place and why he felt the need to gain admiration or power. it's really unclear whether screenwriter, dustin black (milk) even cared about the why, which leaves the film feeling very shallow.
the film is a jumbled mess of a love story, a story of mommy issues, a historical retrospective and a mystery involving charles lindbergh's baby, which was by far the most entertaining part. other films i thought about (besides psycho) while watching this movie were brokeback mountain (societal pressures v. man love) and public enemies (hoover discussing agent purvis after the killing of john dillinger). all three films are far superior to this one.
in sum, client eastwood directs another deliberate, slow moving film with some sweeping camera movements and random sharp angles of the character's faces during moments of distress. i'd skip it unless you are locked out of your apartment as i was last nite and need something to do for a couple of hours.
no hyperbole allowed: C+