J. Edgar is Clint Eastwood’s annual bid for more Oscars. He has won for Unforgiven and Million Dollar Baby. His bid last year was the stinker Hereafter, which I sat through and am still not ready to forgive him for.
This is the story of John Edgar Hoover (1895 to 1972). From 1924 to 1935 he was director of the Bureau of Investigation, followed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation based on the earlier department. He ran the F.B.I. from its inception till his death. From what we see in the new film he may have had a few idiosyncrasies. Well, maybe more than a few. He held tight to the reins of power and used the FBI to investigate politicians who had him in their sights for dismissal. His “secret” files kept them all at bay.
Picking up the J. Edgar story in 1919, we see why he became interested in law enforcement and how he rose to and maintained power. The film itself is shot mostly without light which means everything is dark. Much of the color, as is now in vogue, seems to be bleached out to give a documentary look. The story is not told in a linear manner. It jumps all over 53 years, moving back and forth without warning. At times the two main characters will enter an elevator as old people and emerge from the elevator as young people. My wife wants that elevator. As the characters age, they also take on a waxy, over made-up look that gives us the impression that the weight of the makeup could pull them off balance. Also they begin some big time doddering as if they were over a hundred years old. At one point the doddering became so extreme I noticed a few theater patrons move to the front row, in case they had to catch the actors if they fell forward off the screen.
While well acted with an impressive cast and nicely staged, JE is also confusing and hard to follow due to the all-over-the-map time travel. The only true reoccurring theme is the Lindbergh kidnapping case. The investigation shows how JE’s dedication to forensic science, fingerprint analysis and central powers for investigating these crimes brought the FBI into existence. Much of the rest of the film is based on the sensational rumors of JE’s alleged homosexuality, his blackmailing of presidents and his compulsive speech-making against Communism.
For those who don’t see JE be sure to find the Jimmy Stewart film (on DVD) from 1959 called The FBI Story. Jimmy plays the agent and family man who lives through 3 era’s of crime fighting during the gangster age in the 30s to the war time exploits of the FBI in the 40s and the anti espionage work they performed in the 50s. The film is episodic but highly recommended. Max Steiner’s fine march and score is one of his best. When I attended JE, I noticed that most of the audience seemed to be in the same age group as the few who showed up for Amelia in 2009, the film about the famous lost female aviator. At this point the opening box office returns for JE look a lot like those for Amelia. This is not good. Clint says that hereafter he will only make films that make money. Now somebody needs to talk to M. Night Shyamalan.
Rated 2.9 out of 4.0 reasons I can now tell Clint all is forgiven. Except for Hereafter. NOTE watch for young actor Jordan Bridges in the role of a Labor Dept. Lawyer. He is the son of Beau Bridges and the 3rd generation of the ever-acting Bridges clan.