Sunday, November 13, 2011
"J. Edgar" is a child of its age, clearly. The first of many movies made not for people like you and me, but for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. It hits every note on the Oscar-bait checklist: 1) its a historical biopic, 2) stars a homosexual*, 3) is directed by master Oscar-fisher Clint Eastwood, and 4) stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Dame Judi Dench, two darlings of the Oscar circle. I guess what this movie is telling us is this: "GIVE ME THE OSCAR NOW NOW NOW NOW!!!"
Unfortunately, the only thing worse than such shameless Oscar-bait is bad shameless Oscar-bait. Movies like "The King's Speech" are great because they play up the Oscar-bait role perfectly, telling great universal stories. Why couldn't that happen here? J. Edgar Hoover was a fascinating figure in American figure, ruling as the Presidential Court's Master of Secrets for half a century. You'd think somewhere in there would be a great story to tell, turns out no. Instead, Clint Eastwood made a pathetically dreary slow movie that's more a romance story than any kind of spy thriller. "J. Edgar" is boring, that's all you need to know.
I love Clint Eastwood. He is the master of badass. I wouldn't dare cross him, because Clint Eastwood would bite my face off. Look into his eyes: nothing but blackness like Michael Myers. Get him mad and a swarm of locusts will fly out of those black pools and devour your body, leaving nothing but blood-stained bones behind. Or if he's really pissed he'll just shoot you in the face. But that's as an actor, as a director... he's fucking boring. Let's be honest here. Most of his movies are so dull that I avoid them on principle. Like "Invictus". "Gran Torino" was Eastwood's last good movie, and that's really only because it was so hilarious. Clint Eastwood starring as an old man, ranting and raving and throwing out every single racial slur of the last 100 years, that's hysterical. Old-timey racism is so forgone from our modern understanding of the world its funny, we need more comedies about it.
Now, if you thought "Gone Baby Gone" was boring, you will be shocked to death by "J. Edgar". Or you'll just fall asleep, like I did. Not only is this movie dull, slow, and dreary, its also shot in this super desaturated light. The universe of "J. Edgar" is so boring that colors themselves are less bright, its eternally overcast, and every moment is captured by this weak unnoticeable piano score. I didn't even know there was music in this film until I checked the Wikipedia page and discovered to my shock that Clint Eastwood himself made the score. "The score? What score?" I thought, then I remembered the piano. I want to buy the Original Soundtrack to "J. Edgar" because I have trouble falling asleep some nights, and this movie would be perfect as an insomnia cure.
Okay, let's talk plot. The movie vaguely details J. Edgar Hoover's long career at the FBI, most showing his slow rise in the 1930s as he took down various old gangsters and found the Lindberg baby kidnapper. What we don't see is Hoover's kingmaking tactics, his knowledge of every little scandal in Washington D.C. Who killed Kennedy? I'm pretty sure Hoover knew, but that's apparently not as interesting as the hour we spend detailing the Lindberg case. Or the other hour we spend on Hoover's homosexual relationship with Clyde, the No. 2 guy at the FBI. Yeah, "J. Edgar" is a forbidden gay love story, yawn.
Even as a gay forbidden love story - if you're a fan of that kind of thing - there isn't really all that much meat on this bone, if you know what I mean. There's only one kiss, no sex scenes, really not much of anything. I'm not titillated by gay romances, it does nothing for me physically, so its even more boring than a regular romance movie. At least in a regular romance, I can hope to see the main actress naked. Do I want to see Clyde naked? Not really. Oh, and Hoover only crossdresses one time! What a waste! You gay-movie lovers will feel totally ripped-off.
As for me, I was waiting for Naomi Watts, Hoover's secretary, to get nude somehow, unfortunately, no dice there. It didn't even need to make any sense in the movie, just make it happen somehow. Like one scene, Hoover calls in Naomi Watts to his office and she's just naked. They don't even need to point it out, she's just not wearing cloths in that scene, for no reason. It would have been perfect.
This is a movie so reserved, so inhibited that it can't ever actually break out and show real emotion. I guess that fits with the character and the mood Clint Eastwood is trying to create but that doesn't make for a good movie. I get it, J. Edgar Hoover was a repressed freak who couldn't deal with people, can we move on to something exciting now? Really, "J. Edgar" is some kind of odd remake to 2006's "The Good Shepard", which is basically the same movie only starring Matt Damon and dealing with the birth of the CIA instead. They both star repressed boring people, they both have no pulse, and I hated them both. Why is it that only the British spies ever get to have any fun in movies? MI6 is out fighting super villains and bedding Denise Richards, while our spy agencies are staffed with semi-human zombies lacking any emotion of any kind.
"The Good Shepard", I'd say ultimately was worse, because at least "J. Edgar" tries to create some kind of warped sense of justice for its protagonist. "The Good Shepard" is one of the most cruelly distant movies I've ever seen, Matt Damon's character is a monster beyond understanding. He does terrible things the whole movie, and the movie never seems to want you to be sympathetic with him. He's so distant, he's so cold, even to the audience, its terrible filmmaking. Meanwhile, Leonardo DiCaprio is able to play J. Edgar Hoover with a mixture of self-righteousness and troubled genius. He's got this weird physical twitchiness, like his skull is about to pop out of his head at any point. There's a true intensity to this role. Matt Damon gave nothing, I could not tell you a single emotion his character ever had.
Oh, and the old age make-up in this movie is all over the place. Leonardo DiCaprio does an excellent physical transformation into an aged Charles Foster Kane, but as for Clyde... Well, his old-age make-up is hilarious. He looks like a Jackass performer with the old man makeup on, ready to prank people on the street. Its bad. Still, Leonardo DiCaprio did convince me that he is the man for the remake of "Citizen Kane" - you know its coming.
But Leonardo DiCaprio is the only good part of this movie, there is exactly nothing else to enjoy here. Its a movie without laughs, without thrills, without titillation, without emotions, without anything. "In Time" sucked, it was a stupid stupid movie, but that was fun on some level. It had sexy people doing exciting things. "J. Edgar" has not-so-young actors anymore in old age make-up doing boring things. Which would you rather watch?
* Nobody is actually sure that J. Edgar was a homosexual. He never got married, had some kind of relationship with Clyde Tolson, but also dated a few female Hollywood movie stars. Was he a crossdresser? Did he rape little boys? Who the heck knows? This movie decides that J. Edgar was fully flaming but was so warped and inhibited that he apparently died an ass virgin. Whatever.