Time after time, I’ve seen the movies Clint Eastwood has directed, and every time I’ve been amazed for one reason or another. Well, almost every time. I approached J. Edgar almost expecting to love it, as I had Million Dollar Baby, Changeling, or Gran Torino. Perhaps it’s unfair to have such expectations, but I feel the same way about Pixar. Once you make that number of hits, I start to expect more hits.
J. Edgar missed that mark for me. That’s not to say it’s a total turd; there were certainly things I liked about it. Quite a few of them, actually. Leonardo DiCaprio gave a great performance, his makeup looked fairly realistic, and I felt like I did learn quite a bit about Hoover (I didn’t know much at all before).
So, what didn’t sit right with me? The movie felt like a montage of scenes from Hoover’s life, rather than forming a cohesive narrative. The whole point of his life was building up the FBI into the organization we know today, but Eastwood doesn’t show that organization as it now stands. Instead, the conclusion focused on his secret files, which had far less consequence.
While watching J. Edgar, I kept thinking of another movie, and not just because it shares a star: The Aviator. It’s also a biopic of a great man with a tremendous impact on history, who had some severe mental and character flaws. And while I learned a lot about Howard Hughes watching The Aviator, the story had much more to it. We hoped Hughes would find happiness, that the Spruce Goose would be a success, that he could pull him self out of seclusion. J. Edgar lacked that conflict in the narrative, and it made his character far less interesting.
I have to imagine enough happened in Hoover’s life to make a better movie than this, but if that’s not the case, then maybe the movie shouldn’t have been made in the first place. Maybe Eastwood should have gone the documentary route, rather than biopic. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t recommend this movie. If you want to learn about Hoover, you would probably learn a lot more from a book or documentary on the topic.