J. Edgar, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, was released in the United States late last year, but we didn’t have a chance to see it here in Europe until last week.
The biopic about the former FBI director, directed by Clint Eastwood, is a great history piece but ultimately disappoints because there isn’t much of a storyline.
DiCaprio absolute submerges himself in the role and excels as “the most powerful man in America.” The costumes, the décor, the lighting all enforce a sense of nostalgia that should appeal to dieselpunk enthusiasts. The movie shows a lot of history, from the anarchist hysteria of the early twentieth century to the 1930s war on Crime to fears of communist subversion in the 1950s and 60s.
Throughout it all, Hoover tries to make himself into the ultimate defender of law and order, the only man who stands between America and moral decay. Coupled with his struggles as a chaste homosexual who’s never quite able to commit to the man he loves, it makes for an intriguing picture of the controversial crimefighter.
The plot, unfortunately, is far less illuminating. Perhaps the problem is that it tries to do too much. The strength of other recent biopics, including The Queen and The King’s Speech, was that they depicted a small part of an historic figure’s life. That allows the viewer to get to know the person much better than a film that aims to cover half a century of American history.
DiCaprio is struggling for attention with events in this film. If watched as a docudrama, it’s spectacular. As a motion picture, it falls short.