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.
Jackson gives a DNA sample
Michael Jackson voluntarily submitted a DNA sample to authorities, but it wasn't immediately clear how officials planned to use it in the molestation case against the singer, The Associated Press reports. The sample was collected Saturday--a day after the Santa Barbara County sheriff's deputies arrived at Jackson's Neverland Ranch with search warrants, where a source told the AP they measured rooms, trying to establish the sight lines from one room to another. This is the first time authorities have asked for a DNA sample. Monday is the deadline for prosecutors and defense lawyers to complete the discovery process in which both sides exchange evidence they have gathered during pretrial investigations.
Wonder criticizes Eminem for Jackson jabs
Not usually known for public outbursts, Stevie Wonder publicly railed against rapper Eminem for ridiculing Michael Jackson in his video "Just Lose It." In an interview with Billboard magazine, Wonder said he was "really disappointed" in Eminem. "Kicking someone when he's down is not a good thing," Wonder said. "I have much respect for [Eminem]'s work, though I don't think he's as good as (late rapper) 2Pac. But I was disappointed that he would let himself go to such a level. He has succeeded on the backs of people predominantly in that lower pay bracket, people of color. So for him to come out like that is bull."
John, Beatty honored in Washington
Sir Elton John and Warren Beatty were among six entertainment legends honored for their lifetime contributions at the 27th Annual Kennedy Center Honors Sunday, Reuters reports. The other recipients were soprano Dame Joan Sutherland, composer and conductor John Williams, and husband and wife actors, writers and producers Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee. The Honors Gala, which included guests Faye Dunaway, singer Billy Joel and actor Robert Downey, Jr., will be broadcast later in December on the CBS television network as a two-hour prime time special.
Blake's lawyer promises to move ahead with trial
Robert Blake's defense lawyer has promised to move ahead with the actor's murder trial despite the theft Wednesday of a computer from his Sherman Oaks, Calif., apartment, AP reports. Opening statements in the case were set to begin today but were postponed Thursday after a PC that contained what a court representative called "the heart and soul of the defense case" was stolen from M. Gerald Schwartzbach's apartment-office. The former Baretta star is accused in the 2001 shooting death of his wife, Bonny Lee Bakley. Blake, 71, has pleaded not guilty to murder and solicitation of murder and remains free on $1.5 million bail.
Stewart's America (The Book) named Book of the Year
Jon Stewart's America (The Book) has been named Book of the Year by Publishers Weekly, AP reports. The industry trade magazine called the book "a serious critique of the two-party system, the corporations that finance it and the 'spineless cowards in the press' who 'aggressively print allegation and rumor independent of accuracy and fairness.'" Stewart's book, released in September, quickly became a bestseller even though retail giant Wal-Mart refused to stock it because of a page featuring the faces of the nine Supreme Court justices superimposed over naked bodies.
People's Choice Awards add new categories
The People's Choice Awards have added 14 new categories to the upcoming ceremony, including favorite movies, favorite smile, favorite cartoon star, favorite overall movie, and favorite movie drama, comedy and sequel. There is also a favorite hair accolade as well as favorite "look" award. Previous nominees for the 31st annual People's Choice Awards were announced in October but the list has been revised, compiled by Entertainment Weekly, the People's Choice production team and pop culture fans. The ceremony will be broadcast from 9-11 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 9--live in the East, but tape delayed in the West.
Guylaine Cadorette contributed to this report.