Clint Eastwood’s woeful, inept biopic J. Edgar may not be the worst movie he’s ever made (that’s debatable), but it’s so histrionic, one-sided and unserious that it will stand as the Mommie Dearest of G-man pictures.
J. Edgar is a “Please don’t” picture; mentally, you’ll find yourself saying “Please don’t” when, for instance, Eastwood shows Leonardo DiCaprio’s J.Edgar Hoover lounging around in silky dressing gowns with Clyde Tolson (a campy Armie Hammer, who played the Winklevoss twins in The Social Network) making bitchy remarks about Desi Arnaz’s shoes. Please don’t, Clint. And if a squabble should break out between the two of them, please don’t let it end with Clyde straddling a breathless and sweaty Edgar on the floor and forcefully kissing him.
Yet that’s exactly what happens, and it’s not even the worst scene in this dreadful movie. That honor must go to the soon-to-be-notorious scene in which Edgar, stricken by the death of his domineering, gay-hating mom (Judi Dench), puts on first her necklace, then her dress, then breaks down in tears.
We can take J. Edgar Hoover as a self-aggrandizing creep who abused his authority and served eight presidents, mostly as FBI chief, by making them fear he might blackmail them with his confidential files. But must he also be a crybaby?
DiCaprio is awful. He spends most of the movie under about four inches of makeup as he plays Hoover in the 1960s, reflecting on his youth while trying to bring down Martin Luther King Jr. and blackmailing the Kennedy brothers. The device of Hoover telling his life story for posterity, which screenwriter Dustin Lance Black effectively used in his Oscar-winning script for Milk, this time feels forced and false, not to mention stiff and unoriginal. An FBI agent who takes down Hoover’s reminiscences keeps cross-examining and second-guessing him, as indeed do virtually all of the characters Hoover encounters in the movie.
The incessant attacks on Hoover that constitute this movie don’t even fit together. If he was such a terrifying, nearly omnipotent figure, why does everyone he meets feel free to tell him everything he’s doing wrong?