Oscars old school continues with early J Edgar reviews by Hollywood Reporter and Variety. Todd McCarthy writes film reviews worth reading – he’s one of the best, to my mind, bringing experience, knowledge and good taste to his film writing — that is what separates the good critics from the mediocre ones in my mind. He’s first out of the gate on J Edgar:
This surprising collaboration between director Clint Eastwood and Milk screenwriter Dustin Lance Blacktackles its trickiest challenges with plausibility and good sense, while serving up a simmeringly caustic view of its controversial subject’s behavior, public and private. Big-name talent behind and in front of the camera, led by a committed performance byLeonardo DiCaprio in the title role, assures extensive media attention and public curiosity up to a point. But Warner Bros.’ faces a significant commercial challenge in stirring the interest of younger audiences likely to regard J. Edgar Hoover as an irrelevant artifact of the bad old days or, most reductively, a hypocritical closet case.
More after the cut.
As drama, J. Edgar gets off to a bit of a choppy start as it rapidly introduces a host of names and characters it’s hard to keep track of while bouncing from 1919 to the 1960s and back again, with Hoover’s voiceover attempting to clarify what’s going on. DiCaprio’s changing looks across the decades also takes some getting used to; while his old-age makeup seems jarring at first, one gradually looks beyond it, and the actor is actually most effective in the middle and late-age scenes. Hoover’s manner of speaking is unusual in itself; it’s carefully enunciated with an aggressive drive and no identifiable regional affiliation, evidently all carefully cultivated to compensate for early stuttering. He also has dark, soulless mahogany eyes and a chunky body some praise as “solid.”
DiCaprio projects this odd authority figure with energetic earnestness, a strong grip on the man’s mindset and purpose, and an attentiveness to Hoover’s power to prevail over others in matters big and small. It’s a vigorous, capable performance, one that carries the film and breathes new life into the old tradition of plain real folk achieving retroactive allure by being played by attractive stars. But the characterization remains external, one of solid technique blocked from going deep because Hoover remains a fixed figure closed to taking a personal journey.
Hammer plays Tolson as a bland fashion-plate who enjoys raising an eyebrow and making the occasional suggestive comment; in less constrained circumstances, Hammer slyly implies, this could have been one fun guy. Watts has little opportunity to express much beyond dogged loyalty and Dench is similarly limited in her portrait of a severe mother hen. A host of actors come and go impersonating, with various levels of credibility, such famous figures as Charles Lindbergh, Emma Goldman, Mitchell Palmer, Robert Kennedy, Bruno Hauptmann, Richard Nixon (the only president depicted) and Ginger and Lela Rogers.
More of McCarthy’s review.
Kris Tapley is mixed on the film, but he is certain about Leonardo DiCaprio’s performance, says he might finally win Best Actor:
At the heart of this vacillating, though, is a definitive opinion: Leonardo DiCaprio is exceptional in the title role, digging into an incredibly complex character, committing from frame one to the embodiment and maintaining that course without losing focus. It’s at times a broad portrayal of a broad persona, but I thought the actor found ways to dial it down and make the internal machinations of the man count. And I think it could very well carry him to that elusive first Oscar win.
Cooler on the film, Variety’s Peter DeBruge:
J. Edgar Hoover’s mystique lies in the fact that while he kept meticulous files with compromising details on some of America’s most powerful figures, nobody knew the man’s own secrets. Therefore, any movie in which the longtime FBI honcho features as the central character must supply some insight into what made him tick, or suffer from the reality that the Bureau’s exploits were far more interesting than the bureaucrat who ran it — a dilemma “J. Edgar” never rises above. With Leonardo DiCaprio bringing empathy to the controversial Washington power-monger, Clint Eastwood’s old-school biopic should do solid midrange business.