Tuesday, November 29, 2011

J. Edgar - A Review

'J. Edgar' was not exactly what I was expecting.  I was surprised at the power or Leonardo DiCaprio in this biopic on the life of the legendary FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover.  I was also surprised that it's as much of a love story as it is an historical drama.

I don't go to the movies much.  I went last summer to see the Diary of a Wimpy Kid movie.  The summer before, on a rainy day in Maine, we saw another kid's flick, though which one it was escapes me at the moment.  I'm not sure why I don't go more.  I love the big screen, I love hearing the other movie-goers interacting with the film, I love the smell of popcorn.

I guess they are kind of a date night thing and, well, uhh, I am not going on many dates these days.  In my last relationship, our date night thing was going out for drinks and dinner more than it was going to the movies, so it's been a while since I saw a regular (notice I avoided the use of the word adult) movie in the theater.  But I am looking for new things to do with new friends, and a movie seemed low-key and not really too difficult.

J. Edgar is a pretty good movie.  It's a sweeping story about a really troubled and flawed man, moving across 50 years.  DiCaprio is really good.  REALLY REALLY good.  I have never been a fan of Leo, but this is the best work I have seen him do.  He shows Hoover to be the deluded, but fearsomely powerful man who built the FBI into his own empire.  The tortured, troubled but still brilliant man plays out on director Clint Eastwood's bleak sets and stages, seeming to drain the color from all around him.

Hoover's long-time companion, Clyde Tolson, is played almost silently by Armie Hammer, who is best known for his roles in The Social Network.  Tolson is played as Hoover's foil, the light to Hoover's dark.  This is overplayed a bit and Tolson comes off as a bit of a pale moralist who doesn't really fit next to the gigantic Hoover that DiCaprio brings to life.

The love story between these two men is played as an affection never brought to fruition because Hoover is afraid of his mother's disapproval.  The real story between the men is as shrouded as the contents of Hoover's secret files, the MacGuffin of the movie, which are used to move the story thought the arc of the 20th century.

The sharp intake of breath audience from the when the men fight and utimately violently kiss was surprising to me.  It's not the first guy-guy kiss we've seen on the silver screen and I thought everyone kind of knew that Hoover had some skeletons in his closet.  My companion, though was shocked and had no idea what might be coming.

At a bit more than 2 hours, the film dragged a bit, especially in the early scenes.  I was also struck by how dependent I have become on being able to use IMDB and Wikipedia during a movie to fact-check or research actors and locations.  I resisted, but it was difficult! 

This is a tough movie to like.  It's spare and drab.  Hoover is not a guy who is exactly warm and cuddly.  We never really get beyond the basics with any of the supporting cast and Tolson is a 1 dimensional screen pairing. Still, it's a hck of a story and it's always nice to be in a treaer to see a movie.  All in all, it was a fun night out and worth the 2 hours and $11 a person to sit in the top row of a full stadium theater and be taken to another time and place for just a little while.

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