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J.A.A. Purves

J. Edgar (2011)

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wHkNFC8vEh8

- with Leonardo DiCaprio, Naomi Watts, Judi Dench, and Stephen Root

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I don't know that Eastwood is the right director for this story.

Actually I am quite positive that a director known for shooting the script's first draft and "what's in the script" is exactly the WRONG director for a script on J. Edgar Hoover written by Dustin Lance Black. Barring a miraculous "can you believe Black wrote THAT" critical reaction, you couldn't pay me to see this movie.

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I've seen a lot of trailers that showed me Leonardo Dicaprio being miscast, and miscast in what appear to be very bad movies. This is the worst of them all.

Sigh.

Remember This Boy's Life? Gilbert Grape? So much promise in that young actor. Then, a potentially great character actor was mistaken for a hotshot leading man, and I've never been able to see a character... only Dicaprio, packaged and sold as a star.

It's painful to watch him in this trailer. And the movie looks positively awful.

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I've seen a lot of trailers that showed me Leonardo Dicaprio being miscast, and miscast in what appear to be very bad movies. This is the worst of them all.

Sigh.

Remember This Boy's Life? Gilbert Grape? So much promise in that young actor. Then, a potentially great character actor was mistaken for a hotshot leading man, and I've never been able to see a character... only Dicaprio, packaged and sold as a star.

It's painful to watch him in this trailer. And the movie looks positively awful.

What you said. Dicaprio is exactly the wrong person to play this role.

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When are directors going to learn that they cannot age Leo DiCaprio? It's simply not possible. He'll look 12 when he's 90.

And I agree that the movie looks awful.

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If you read Eastwood's reply carefully, it says they are going to show a "discreet" or "private" or "closeted" sexual affair between Hoover and Tolson.

The bastards.

But frankly -- personnel is policy. Once you know the script credit reads "Dustin Lance Black" (of MILK and "all you gay kids out there on Oscar night" fame), it was inevitable.

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If you read Eastwood's reply carefully, it says they are going to show a "discreet" or "private" or "closeted" sexual affair between Hoover and Tolson.

Huh. I read it as saying "Your call is important to us...please hold." Very rightly, too. He should make whatever movie he wants--good or bad, accurate or not, and the Hoover foundation can like it or lump it. Besides which, wasn't there some talk a while back that the romance would mostly be below-the-surface, with Hoover's own repression being a motivating factor from him? Perhaps I'm misremembering, but that would be something very different from "discreet" "private" or "closeted."

But frankly -- personnel is policy. Once you know the script credit reads "Dustin Lance Black" (of MILK and "all you gay kids out there on Oscar night" fame), it was inevitable.

Oh, horrors. Pardon me while I reach for my smelling salts. ;)

Seriously, though. Anyone who kept a file on Eleanore Roosevelt's alleged lesbian lovers and "also spread unsubstantiated rumors that Adlai Stevenson was gay to damage the liberal governor's 1952 presidential campaign" deserves what he gets.

EDIT: Here's the Eastwood quote I had in mind:

"Well, they were inseparable pals [...] Now, whether he was gay or not is gonna be for the audience to interpret. It could have been just a great love story between two guys. Or it could have been a great love story that was also a sexual story. [snip] It's not a movie about two gay guys. It's a movie about how this guy manipulated everybody around him and managed to stay on through nine presidents. I mean, I don't give a crap if he was gay or not."

Not quite as I remembered, but close enough.

Edited by NBooth

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He should make whatever movie he wants ... accurate or not

...

Anyone who [did bad things in re others' sexuality] deserves what he gets.

That tells me all I need to know.

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He should make whatever movie he wants ... accurate or not

...

Anyone who [did bad things in re others' sexuality] deserves what he gets.

That tells me all I need to know.

Happy to be of service. I hope you found Eastwood's cited quotes on the matter equally reassuring. :)

Edited by NBooth

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Overstreet wrote:

: EW's Chris Willman . . .

Um, isn't that kind of like calling you "CT's Jeffrey Overstreet"?

: So, "J. Edgar" is officially the movie everyone is dreading most that doesn't star Adam Sandler this holiday season, right?

I didn't realize Adam Sandler was starring in Twilight: Breaking Dawn: Part I.

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Having read a book on the Hoover-era FBI made up mostly of declassified memos, I have no interest in a film that portrays him positively at all.

DiCaprio will do good job, but the aged version of the character does look a fair bit ridiculous in the trailer. Normally Oscar winning director plus Oscar winning actor would be a slam dunk... this may end up being quite an odd film.

Edited by theoddone33

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Having read a book on the Hoover-era FBI made up mostly of declassified memos, I have no interest in a film that portrays him positively at all.

Well, if Twitch is to be believed, there's no fear of that.

Without much context as to the tenor of the changing times over the decades that Hoover headed the FBI, we are left to draw the very obvious conclusion that Hoover was a villain. In effect, he is portrayed as a lone gunman, acting alone on his own mad initiative, as though there were not systems of support in place to keep him in power, beyond the secret files that he maintained and wielded like a bludgeon, warding off any potential usurpers. It's all too simplistic for a work of this length, with an unofficial running time in excess of 120 minutes.

The film awakens briefly whenever Clyde flirts ever so subtly with Edgar (as he likes to be called by his only true friend). In those moments, a smile dances across Edgar's face and his eyes alight ever so slightly. Their relationship develops to a certain point, and then there is a confrontation, which is the passionate highlight of J. Edgar.

Then the movie returns to the moldy pages of history, and we listen dutifully out of respect for Clint Eastwood, a master filmmaker, and his multitude of accomplishments. Alas, J. Edgar is not one of them.

Edited by NBooth

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...and here's Collider:

J. Edgar once again proves that Eastwood is not worthy of the material he’s receiving. His legacy and name recognition allows him to churn out a movie per year, which would be impressive if the movies were good. One could argue the same about Woody Allen’s output, but Allen’s films are personal and original, where it feels like Eastwood is stealing stories that other filmmakers could do better. But we’re stuck with over-praised director relying on the performances of his talented his actors and hoping that the film’s premise and script can make the movie passably mediocre. By that painfully low standard, J. Edgar qualifies as a success.

Meanwhile, The Daily Notebook rounds up reviews, including:

Box Office Magazine

J. Edgar functions as a Wikipedia page dipped in makeup, an assemblage of half-truths, gossip, innuendo and the occasional historical fact, all drenched in latex and drained of color. It's the cinematic equivalent of the animatronic Lincoln at Disney's Hall of the Presidents: stiff, jerky, mechanical, fake.

The House Next Door

My worst fears have been realized. For the first time, I can't excuse the bull Clint Eastwood is selling.

And others. Most bad. And yet, The New Yorker is surprisingly positive:

The film moves fast, but Eastwood’s touch is light and sure, his judgment sound, the moments of pathos held just long enough. And he cast the right star as his equivocal hero-fool.

FWIW, i/r/t the exchange above over "discreet and closeted," it looks like I was half-wrong to take Eastwood at his word. The consensus seems to be that the movie certainly does portray Hoover as "closeted"--and that this repression drives Hoover to become the monster the movie apparently makes him out to be. None of them bear out the idea that he was "discreet," though (or even that there was an affair). It looks like the movie relies heavily on subtext.

EDIT: Meanwhile, Slant gives the movie three stars:

Lots of critics and viewers (historian, history-curious, or otherwise) will want to try and read the tea leaves of J. Edgar to figure out what Eastwood thinks of the legendary G-man, what kind of guy he thinks Hoover was, whether he was good or bad, why he did the things he did, and so on. While those things are addressed in Black's script, what remains at the forefront of Eastwood's film is the dissolution of years, and its parallel effect on the body.
Edited by NBooth

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Steve Sailer @ Taki`s Magazine:

Clint Eastwood’s biopic J. Edgar, with Leonardo DiCaprio as the Washington bureaucrat who ran the FBI and its predecessor from 1924 to his death in early 1972, provides an intriguing data point for tracking the 21st-century struggle between blacks and gays for the upper hand in the Victim Sweepstakes.

Hoover was widely rumored to be either a self-hating gay passing for straight, a self-hating mulatto passing for all-white, or both. So did Clint, a presumably neutral bystander, wind up blaming racism or homophobia for warping Hoover? . . .

J. Edgar is a dull tragedy, but it could have been a lively comedy if it had been subversively envisioned South Park-style as yet another Big Gay Conservative Fiasco. Notably, J. Edgar leaves out Hoover’s secret working relationship with the brains behind Senator Joe McCarthy—Roy Cohn, the lisping homosexual staffer to whom Hoover illegally fed FBI wiretaps. . . .

Glenn Kenny:

I found these points sufficiently interesting that I think they deserve the platform of their own post. They got me thinking about a bunch of things, among them being the fact that what I really do enjoy in the latter films directed by Eastwood is the way the ostensibly white-elephant material exists side by side with what I consider the real meat of the movies, the termite stuff, if you want to extend the Manny Farber terminology. There's a very messy dread at the heart of the film that is evoked at some of the most seemingly offhand moments. They reach a crescendo in the crucial mother-and-son confrontation of the film, a scene so utterly fraught and pathetic that it could have been plucked out of a great Fassbinder picture. And also that while my evocation of a stiff solemnity may have evoked for TFB a "reaching for authority," or respectability, the way it played for me on screen was rather different, that is, not so much Richard Attenburough's Gandhi as Carl Theodor Dreyer's Gertrud. That's not an analogy that can stand up to formal analysis, and it's not meant to, I just bring it up relative to the predominant tone I got from the picture. The atmosphere is, I think, very much deliberately kind-of-suffocating, rather than actively elevating. A fancy way of saying, I suppose, that the movie is a bit of a bummer, and all the better for it. . . .

Richard Brody @ The New Yorker has mounted some interesting defenses of the film and Eastwood`s role as a `political` filmmaker, too.

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This thread has a lot of jokes and links to outside reviews, but has anyone watched it? I tried before my voting deadline in early December and was surprised by how much I liked the first hour of the film. Then I fell asleep. I woke up in time for the last 30 minutes, which were pretty overheated and ridiculous at moments. But I wanted to rewatch the movie.

I sat down with it again last night and watched the first half. As with my first viewing, I liked it a lot. I said this to my wife, and she wrinkled her nose and said the story's flashback/flash-forward structure was confusing, and that the movie was kind of boring.

I have no insight into why the film -- at least the first half -- works for me. I suspect the latter half will tail off, so I don't want to defend the film as a whole. Indeed, I could criticize elements in the first half of the film that bothered me -- the dull framing device, or the old-age makeup (a well earned favorite target among the film's detractors). But there's just something about the film that keeps me watching. I don't know if it's Tom Stern's cinematography, DiCaprio's performance ... I have little to say on the film, other than that I'm surprised it's generated so little discussion.

OK, let me broaden this out. Is it the gay thing? Is that what's kept the A&F crowd away? I've noticed that some acclaimed films with gay themes this year -- I'm thinking of Weekend and Pariah -- haven't generated many posts here. I'm not even sure we have dedicated threads for those films. Are people just not interested in gay cinema, or gay characters? It hasn't seemed that way in the past. Sure, the movies I mention are smaller releases (not J. Edgar, though), but we talk up "small" films all the time here, as long as they're artistically worthy.

I'm guilty. I had access to a stream of several films from IFC, and Weekend was the only film I didn't watch ahead of my awards deadline. I also have an unwatched screener of Pariah. I like to think that I'll catch up with those films eventually, but the lack of discussion about the titles here makes me wonder if I should bother. I actually look to A&F for reasoned, balanced discussion of these movies, because I tend to view mainstream reviews too often as cheerleading for a cause rather than fair analysis of a film's pros and cons.

Maybe this post will generate some comment in our lagging J. Edgar thread.

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FWIW, I wasn't wowed.

The life and work of J. Edgar Hoover offers grist for a dozen different movies or more, and Clint Eastwood’s J. Edgar wants to be all of them at once. It’s the sort of staidly respectable, competently directed biopic that gives a bad name to competently directed biopics, and possibly to respectability.

Everything that ought to happen does happen, but seldom with much sense of urgency or revelation. The one question in which the screenplay by Dustin Lance Black (writer of the biopic Milk, about gay-rights activist Harvey Milk) takes a vital interest is whether the perpetual flirtation between Hoover (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his right-hand man Clyde Tolson (The Social Network’s Armie Hammer) will or won’t spill over into physicality.

Like Richard Attenborough’s reverential Chaplin, starring Robert Downey Jr, J. Edgar takes a lazy shortcut to summarizing its subject’s life: depicting the great man dictating his memoir, the better to assure his legacy and that of his beloved agency. ...

...it’s not enough to show us these things: Hoover has to say things like “They’ve forgotten the bombs, the terror, the raids.” And “Just like the Communist before him, the gangster finally fell from favor; now children dreamed of joining the FBI.” The more he explains to his biographers, the less room there is for the mystery that Hoover himself told us is needed.

...because almost none of the other characters is fleshed out, the effects of Hoover’s actions on the world has little impact. The social impact of the Lindbergh kidnapping is palpable only in the look on Anna Marie’s face when she stresses how important it is that the baby be brought home. The enormity of Hoover’s shady actions is largely expressed by tut-tutting from the long-suffering Tolson...

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