Saturday, November 19, 2011

'J.Edgar' About What You'd Expect: Uncomfortable

Clint Eastwood's "J. Edgar" begs one simple question: "Why bother?"

His biopic--starring the always watchable Leonardo DiCaprio under 17 pounds of facial makeup--examines the life of longtime FBI Chief J. Edgar Hoover, whom Charles Lindbergh called "a fussy little man" early in Hoover's career. He never became much more than that, but he accumulated power by keeping dirty-little-secret files on the powerful and hanging them out with a threat of public exposure.

He was as much a liar and a crook as those he sought to imprison.

This was not an admirable man and he is shown to be what he was in this treatment that left me feeling like I needed a bath. There's simply not much right with this movie, starting with layering makeup on the aged principals in a manner that makes Tammy Fae Baker--and even the spooks in the "Twilight Saga"--look subtle. It is even ghoulish, especially with longtime Hoover companion Clyde Tolson (a man with whom Hoover is thought to have had a secret--or not so secret, depending on whom you ask--homosexual affair).

Hoover was a despicable character in every sense, yet he became idolized by many as the head G-Man, a product primarily of his public relations machine. He distorted the Constitution at every turn and yet claimed to be the ideal American, protecting freedom from Commies, black people, gay people and anybody else who didn't fit his plastic mold. At one point, my companion at the movie leaned over and asked, "Why isn't anybody laughing?" Indeed.

Eastwood is a good movie maker--probably as good as we have--but this one misses. Even the good ones miss occasionally and the upside is that he will likely try again.

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