Power held by one man for so long is surely conditioned by lacking development elsewhere. Clint Eastwood must believe so as he tackles the life of J. Edgar Hoover. Played by Leonardo DiCaprio over several decades of his life, the hard work found in J. Edgar falls on deaf ears. Not because its hopes of adapting the former FBI Director to the screen is a wasted or useless opportunity to dive deep into the heart of American politics, but because Eastwood is unsure of what to do when he gets there. His response is not to showcase the big, interesting hauls of a fifty-year career, but to delve into the gossip surrounding his social life. Such a waste, especially when Hoover’s work is so interesting, primed and ready to be adapted to the big screen as the man who overhauled what the Federal Bureau of Investigation was responsible for.
Such a formidable cast is wasted. Eastwood’s direction feels dire and misplaced. He does craft amicable solutions to the years of life he wishes to bring to the screen, but they have no colour, no real creativity to them. Grey halls and splashes of brown on the jackets and jumpers of inconsequential supporting characters. Sleek hallways of governmental buildings. If Eastwood intends to show the work of J. Edgar Hoover as dull and humdrum, then he does so well. It is the awkward, jagged subplots that involve Judi Dench. Those flashbacks to the past would be worthwhile had they told audiences anything at all interesting about Hoover. Even DiCaprio is inconsequential, his performance using the usual charms of his characteristics to no avail. His scenes of actual work consist of yelling at whoever is nearest, drafting reports on moments that could lead to great interest, and having a moral compass that, inevitably, begins to fade.
Bloated J. Edgar may be, it is surprising how few notes of style or interest there are to draw from this biopic of Hoover’s life. While displaying the foundations of the FBI with a bit of energy, it does not last long. It is more interested in gossip and the personal workings of his life, the relationship with his mother, Anna Marie (Dench) or essential secretary, Helen Gandy (Naomi Watts). Little is actually presented about the work he was so frequently involved in. These moments are delegated far down the food chain, to the up-and-coming likes of Adam Driver or Josh Lucas. Armie Hammer makes an appearance too, as the right-hand man of Hoover, a startlingly dull role as Clyde Tolson. Still, at least these moments are shown. Eastwood has a surprising lack of interest in them, and despite focusing so closely on the social lifestyle of Hoover, he comes out with little to show for it.
Eastwood’s appreciation for American heroes is not enough to surmount the awful prosthetic makeup slathered onto DiCaprio, nor can it save his performance from uninspired writing or dithering troubles found elsewhere. Eastwood bites off more than he can chew. His desire to showcase an American hero as a troubled man with personal struggles is reasonable and even enlightening, but his efforts are wasted here. J. Edgar is bloated, unfulfilling and packed to the brim with just about every detail you could want about the life of a former FBI Director. The issue there, then, is too much. Eastwood cannot decide on what to cut, and with only two hours to get to the point of his American hero angle, he spends far too long mending bridges between characters you’ll barely remember had interactions together.