Few of the powerful men who helped shape America in the 20th century are as polarizing as J. Edgar Hoover considering the peaks and valleys of his nearly half-century-long reign as the director of the FBI and his closely guarded private life. However while there is much to debate about whether the heroism of Hoover’s early career outweighs the knee-jerk paranoia that clouded the end of his run at the Bureau and about what really turned on this lifelong bachelor one aspect of Hoover’s life is inarguable: this was a man who possessed a rare gift for establishing and maintaining order. Everything that fell under his control was meticulously kept in its place from the fingerprints on file in the FBI’s database to the cleanly shaved faces of his loyal G-Men.
It’s an unfortunate irony then that J. Edgar the biopic focused on this ruthlessly organized administrative genius is such a sloppy awkwardly assembled mess. Its lack of tidiness hardly suits its central character and is also shockingly uncharacteristic of director Clint Eastwood. The filmmaker’s recent creative renaissance which began in 2003 with the moody Boston tragedy Mystic River may not have been one defined by absolute perfection—the World War II epic Flags of Our Fathers for example is no better than an admirable mixed bag—but it comes to a grinding halt with J. Edgar Eastwood’s least satisfying and least coherent effort since 1999’s True Crime. There’s no faulting the attention paid to surface period details—every tailored suit and vintage car registers as authentic—but on the most fundamental level Eastwood and writer Dustin Lance Black (an Academy Award winner for Milk as off his game as Eastwood here) haven’t figured out what kind of movie they want to shape around Hoover’s life. For two-thirds of its running time J. Edgar devotes itself to an overly dry recitation of facts about its title character which is about as viscerally thrilling as reading Hoover’s Wikipedia page and then makes a late-inning bid for romantic melodrama totally at odds with the bloodless history-lesson approach favored by the preceding 90 minutes.
The non-chronological narrative structure Black adopts to tell Hoover’s story only adds to the overall disjointedness. Star Leonardo DiCaprio is first seen caked in old-age makeup as Hoover conscious he’s nearing the end of his tenure at the Bureau dictates his memoirs to an obliging junior agent (Ed Westwick). As Hoover describes how he began his career the movie jumps back in time to depict that origin giving the false impression that the dictation scenes with old Hoover will act as necessary structural connective tissue. Instead Black eventually abandons the narrative device altogether leaving the movie rudderless in its leaps backwards and forwards through time. As a result the shuffling of scenes depicting the young Hoover achieving great success alongside his right-hand man Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer) and those portraying the aging Hoover abusing his power by wire-tapping progressive luminaries (such as Martin Luther King Jr.) that he mistrusts feels frustratingly arbitrary. There’s no real rhyme or reason to why one scene follows another.
DiCaprio does his best to anchor the proceedings with a precise authoritative lead performance. Although his voice is softer than Hoover’s he mimics the crimefighter’s trademark cadence with organic ease and more importantly he manifests Hoover’s unbending fastidiousness in a number of ingenious details like in the way that Hoover reflexively adjusts a dining-room chair while in mid-conversation. But Black’s limited view of Hoover as a tyrannical egotist—the script is close to a hatchet job—denies DiCaprio the chance to play a fully three-dimensional version of the FBI pioneer. Hoover is granted the most humanity in his scenes opposite Hammer’s Tolson which are by far the most compelling in the movie. Possessing no knowledge of the secretive Hoover’s romantic life Eastwood and Black speculate that Hoover and Tolson’s relationship was defined by a mutual attraction that Tolson wanted to pursue but Hoover was too timid to even acknowledge. Hammer so sharp as the privileged Winklevoss twins in The Social Network is the only supporting player given much to do—Naomi Watts’ talents are wasted as Hoover’s generically long-suffering secretary while poor Judi Dench must have had most of her scenes as Hoover’s reactionary mother left on the cutting-room floor—and he runs with it. His mega-watt charisma is like a guarantee of future stardom and he’s actually far more effortless behind the old-age makeup than veterans DiCaprio and Watts manage to be.
While the unrequited love story between Hoover and Tolson is clearly meant to provide J. Edgar with an emotional backbone the movie takes so long to get to it that it feels instead like an afterthought. Where in all the dutiful historical-checklist-tending that dominates the film is the Eastwood who flooded the likes of The Bridges of Madison County Letters From Iwo Jima and last year’s criminally underrated Hereafter with oceans of pure feeling? He’s a neo-classical humanist master who has somehow ended up making a cold dull movie that reduces one of recent history’s most enigmatic giants to a tiresome jerk.
September 10, 2004 1:14pm EST
P. Diddy says he's being fleeced in child support
Sean "P. Diddy" Combs thinks he is being fleeced by the mother of his 10-year-old son and is hurt by her demands to increase his child support payments, which currently stand at $35,000 per month. "We've had a great relationship, and then all of the sudden I got hit with a lawsuit for more money," Combs told The Associated Press Thursday. Combs is currently appealing the $35,000 per month ruling brought on by Misa Hylton-Brim, a fashion stylist for Lil' Kim and other stars. "My son goes to the best schools, he has full-time tutors," the mogul said. "I wouldn't know what else to do to give my son." Combs claims Hylton-Brim wants more money because she's in the process of getting a divorce from her husband, with whom she has children. "It's not about child support, it's about adult support," he said. "I love the mother of my first child. I would never want to do anything to hurt her, but I have to defend the kind of father that I am." Combs, who also pays roughly the same amount in child support payments to model Kim Porter, the mother of his second child, Christian, added: "The fact is that the mother of my first child gets more money than the mother of my second child." Combs and Porter are currently together. But Combs said he had no bad feelings towards Hylton-Brim. "I'm always going to respect her for being the mother of my child … but at the same time, that don't mean she has to be right."
Disney chief Michael Eisner to step down in 2006
Disney chief Michael Eisner plans to step down when his contract expires in September 2006, Reuters reports. Eisner, who headed the Burbank, California-based company for two decades, told the board of his decision in a letter dated Sept. 9, released by Disney on Friday. Eisner became Disney's chief executive in 1984 and presided over one of the world's best-known brands, whose businesses range from theme parks to films to the ABC television network. But in April, the 62-year-old Eisner just narrowly survived an attempt led by dissident shareholders Stanley Gold and Roy Disney, a nephew of founder Walt Disney, to oust him from his post at Disney. Eisner was subsequently stripped of his role as Disney chairman.
Gwyneth Paltrow to take time off
Gwyneth Paltrow, who gave birth to daughter Apple in May, says she is not going back to work any time soon. "I don't imagine that I'm going to take on something very big in the next 6, 8, 10, 12 months," the actress reveals in the latest issue of Entertainment Weekly, which hits newsstands Friday. Paltrow said she could fill her leisure time attending Pilates class or watching reality TV fare like MTV's Newlyweds, staring Jessica Simpson--Paltrow's favorite singer. "I'm just glad that there's one super-popular girl in America who's not drunk, sleeping with tons of people, and wearing incredibly revealing, inappropriate outfits," Paltrow told EW. "She's a postmodern Donna Reed."
Naomi Campbell discusses drug addiction
Supermodel Naomi Campbell, who won a legal battle against the Daily Mirror tabloid over revelations about her drug addiction, will talk about her battle with drugs in an interview with British talk show host Michael Parkinson, Reuters reports. According to excerpts from the show released Friday, Campbell admitted to doing cocaine. "No one forced me to do it. I did it because I wanted to. I don't have any blame for anyone but myself," Campbell, 34, said. "I go to (rehabilitation) meetings in every country I'm in. When you stop drugs, you have to stop everything."
Theron's injury could have been worse
Charlize Theron's recent injury on the Berlin set of Aeon Flux could have been much worse. The actress' boyfriend, actor Stuart Townsend, told AP Radio that Theron was doing a back-flip somersault while wearing platform shoes when she slipped and hurt her neck. "The slipped disc went almost into the spinal cord," he explained. "She's fine, but could've been in a lot of trouble." Townsend says he expects Theron, 29, to be laid up for six weeks. When asked why she was performing the stunt, Townsend replied: "She's just that kind of girl. She's like, 'Yeah, I'll do anything.' But I said, 'The stunt girl is going to start working and not you.'"
Kanye West leads Source noms
Rapper-producer Kanye West received a leading seven Source Hip-Hop Music Awards nominations Thursday, including nods for best album, video, lyricist and producer of the year, the AP reports. Ludacris followed close behind with six nods. The rapper will battle for male artist of the year against Jay-Z, Lil Flip, Twista and Juvenile. Youngbloodz, Ying Yang Twins, 8Ball and MJG, Westside Connection and OutKast, meanwhile, will compete for group of the year. The Source Awards, which will be handed in out in Miami Oct. 10, and will air on BET Nov. 30.
Legendary Disney animator Frank Thomas dies
Frank Thomas, one of Disney Studios' pioneering animators whose credits include Pinocchio, Bambi, Peter Pan and 101 Dalmatians, died yesterday at his home in Flintridge, Calif., the AP reports. He was 92. Thomas had been in declining health following a cerebral hemorrhage earlier this year, according to the studio. Thomas was a member of Walt Disney's elite "Nine Old Men," who worked on many classic shorts and features during a career that spanned more than four decades. He was born in Santa Monica, Calif., and went to college at Stanford University, where he met his lifelong friend and another of the "nine old men," Ollie Johnston--the last of those original animators still alive. Thomas is survived by his wife of 58 years, Jeanette, their children and grandchildren.