For some unnecessary reason, J. Edgar's 137 minute running time is spent flipping back and forth between various important moments in Hoover's FBI career. The story swings wildly between the rousting of Communist radicals, to Hoover's introduction and pathetic attempt at wooing the woman who would remain his trusted secretary for his entire professional career, to the 1935 Lindbergh baby kidnapping, to his never-ending battles with an assortment of US Presidents. All of these moments in history are scrambled together in a disjointed and even at times confusing recounting of Hoover's life without any rhyme or reason.
The biggest disappointment is that J. Edgar had the potential to be if not the definitive film of J Edgar Hoover's complex, contradictory life, than at least one of the most interesting and intriguing. Look at its credentials: A multiple Oscar-winning director who excels in character-driven dramas; a multiple Oscar-nominated actor who is considered one of the best of his generation and who never phones in a performance; supporting actresses who can claim seven Oscar nominations with one win between them; and a screenwriter who knocked the socks off of the Academy with his screenplay for Milk.
Where did it all go wrong? First, the hands-off, let's-just-hint-at-J. Edgar's-sexual-preferences approach to examining the infamous FBI leader's personal life. The schizophrenic, scattershot non-linear story gives us the glossy PG-rated take on the relationship between J Edgar and Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer), his second-in-command at the FBI. J. Edgar is as repressed as the man at the center of the story, with daily lunch and dinner dates and Hoover's occasional patting of Tolson's hand as far as Black and Eastwood are willing to take that aspect of Hoover's life. Yet they've made the love story the very heart of the film. If you're not going to fully explore the relationship, why not relegate it to minor subplot rather than thrusting it forward as the central issue?
Secondly, far too much time is spent showcasing the twisted relationship between J. Edgar and his overly possessive, demanding mother (Judi Dench), a relationship which ultimately leads to one of the single worst scenes of 2011. The scene, which I won't go into detail to explain, involves a Norman Bates-ish moment that needs to be seen to be appreciated for just how horribly it's integrated into the film. It's one of those scenes you have to believe was intended to be an awards-worthy moment to be used in a highlight reel during awards campaigns. Instead, it - along with one ridiculously melodramatic scene between DiCaprio and Hammer - elicited chuckles from the audience.
And last but not least, with all the advances in makeup and prosthetics why does Hammer's old age makeup look like a melting rubber mask?
Unfortunately, J. Edgar is disappointingly superficial, failing to reveal anything more than the most basic facts about Hoover. J. Edgar isn't the awards-worthy contender we were hoping for but instead just another in a long line of over-hyped 2011 theatrical releases.
J. Edgar was directed by Clint Eastwood and is rated R for brief strong language.
Theatrical Release: November 9, 2011 (limited), November 11th (wide)