J. Edgar Review

Feb 21, 2012 | 9:19am EST

J. Edgar Blu-ray Box Art

When tinsel town titans and Oscar-winners Brian Grazer and Clint Eastwood last teamed up the result was a bleak period piece centered on a solid headline-making performance from star Angelina Jolie in 2008’s Changeling. Their next cinematic pairing was J. Edgar a decades-spanning chronicle of the titular American icon of justice and it shares much in common with the aforementioned film. Both feature a color-drained aesthetic are set largely in the United States of yesteryear and as stated are anchored by a rousing portrayal (this time courtesy of three-time Oscar nominee Leonardo DiCaprio). But while the deeply dramatic material helped audiences connect with Changeling it hinders J. Edgar in a few instances.

From its very first frames J. Edgar feels like an old-fashioned spy thriller. That’s an inherent observation given the subject matter but it’s portrait-like visual style – including era-appropriate costume designs low-key lighting and contemplative framing – bring to mind classic noirs of the Hitchcock variety and further justify the claim. However the film sadly lacks the suspense that made Secret Agent and Notorious among others such revered time-honored pieces of work. Eastwood is not totally at fault; screenwriter Dustin Lance Black’s choppy script – which jumps back and forth between periods of the infamous FBI director’s life – kills whatever momentum his director and editor drum up throughout the movie. There’s also the oft alluded-to romance between Hoover and his confidante Clyde Tolson a taboo topic that is delicately handled until an explosive showdown between DiCaprio and Armie Hammer. The former handles the sequence humbly; the latter overacts right into ridiculousness and makes the scene uncomfortable and unintentionally hilarious at once.

At best J. Edgar is an exhibition of DiCaprio’s ability to inhabit a role. Though the make-up effects leave little to be impressed by his characterization of Hoover through diction body language and facial impressions is pretty astounding and a testament to his talent. I’d go as far to say that J. Edgar could’ve been more effective as a simple one-man stage-play than a movie since it’s essentially all about Hoover/DiCaprio anyway.

As a home entertainment release J. Edgar is as singular as the film itself. The 1080p high-definition transfer looks astounding despite the lack of colors and breathes life into the otherwise comatose narrative but there aren’t many scenes that can properly utilize your booming surround sound system. Aside from a DVD and UltraViolet digital copy there’s a sole special feature in the combo pack – “J. Edgar: The Most Powerful Man in the World” – which gives the filmmakers including Eastwood Black DiCaprio Grazer and various experts a chance to dish on Hoover in their own words and discuss their findings and opinions on the man that came to light through their research. Sadly it’s not enough to warrant a repeat view which is how most felt about the movie and that’s why despite its pedigree J. Edgar falls flat in almost every sense.
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