Written by Dustin Lance Black and directed by Clint Eastwood, J. Edgar is the biopic of J. Edgar Hoover and it's a pretty decent film. The sad thing is, however, that it could have been a great film. It seems that Eastwood is content with sitting on his laurels lately instead of delivering the quality of movies that he was giving to audiences not more than five years ago.
Leonardo DiCaprio plays the main character, starting the movie made up as an old man. It's an important time in his life, time to think back over everything that he's done and to get his memoirs written and as he tells his story to a young man typing everything out the audience gets to see many episodes from his life. They may not all be true interpretations of events, sometimes J. Edgar Hoover would say whatever would place him in the best light, but they all add up to paint a picture of the man who started off with great ideas and ended up with great, many would say too much, power. As Mulder might put it he "put the eye in FBI."
Considering the subject matter, this is a surprisingly dull movie at times. Various episodes do, of course, provide some excitement, but when it comes to the central character it does seem as if the script, and in turn Eastwood, is content to just barely scratch the surface. Perhaps he didn't want to upset those who are now working in the house that Hoover built.
It's a shame that the script and direction are so unimaginative and unexciting because the cast all do well and have the potential to do better. DiCaprio, in particular, is excellent in the main role. His performance isn't unlike the performance he gave in The Aviator, especially as Hoover becomes more and more driven and paranoid. Naomi Watts is fine as Helen Gandy, the woman he takes on as his secretary and also the one person he seems to trust completely. Armie Hammer is superb as Clyde Tolson, the man who may or may not have been Hoover's lover, but was certainly a close, dear friend and colleague. Then we have Judi Dench, who may not be in the movie for all that long, but does her usual great work as the mother who casts a long shadow over Hoover's life. Small, but enjoyable, turns from Josh Lucas, Dermot Mulroney, Stephen Root and Denis O'Hare help keep boredom at bay, but only just.
J. Edgar is certainly not a bad movie, in my opinion, but it feels like a wasted opportunity for almost all of its two-hour plus run-time even though it has enough interesting elements throughout to make it worth at least a one-time watch - the look at Hoover's self-aggrandising version of events, the rumours about his sexuality, the film even takes one moment to hint at the alleged cross dressing. I don't think many people will love it, but some people may like it a bit more than I did.