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 Clint Eastwood's J. Edgar

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Donald McKinney
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PostSubject: Clint Eastwood's J. Edgar   Thu Apr 19, 2012 7:08 pm

Even for a man who's nearly 82, Clint Eastwood is showing no signs of slowing down as a director. He won two more Oscars for Million Dollar Baby (2004), showing that his belated win for Unforgiven (1992) was no fluke. But, since 2004, he made two war films back to back, showing two sides to the Battle of Iwo Jima with Flags of our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima in 2006, then another two films in 2008 with Changeling and Gran Torino, the latter showcasing a brilliant performance from Eastwood himself, he followed that by going out of America to South Africa with his Nelson Mandela biopic Invictus (2009) and then his paranormal fantasy Hereafter (2010). However, for his latest film, he's come home to America to take on the mostly unknown life of one of the most controversial figures in American history. a man who was both innovative in his techniques of law and justice, but a man who might have abused his power to get the results he wanted. A film about J. Edgar Hoover was never going to be easy, it was never going to go down well with those who still won't hear a bad word against Hoover even now. But, Eastwood's J. Edgar is a complex film which doesn't go for flashy visuals or even a big budget to tell the story of this man, in fact, in places, the feels as if it came from the age of the old Hollywood studio system.

The film follows the life of John Edgar Hoover (Leonardo DiCaprio) from 1919 until his death in 1972, he started out in the Justice Department in Washington, working for Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer (Geoff Pierson), who has been target in bombings by communist radicals. Impressed by Hoover's intelligence and skills of detection, Palmer puts Hoover in charge of a new anti-radical division, which is successful in deporting communists from America. As a result, Hoover is made Director of the Justice Department's Bureau of Investigation in 1924, (later to become the FBI) which he accepts as long as the Government don't boss them around, and Hoover can do things his way. He assembles his team that consist of secretary Helen Gandy (Naomi Watts) and he hires lawyer Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer) as his Associate Director. All this impresses Hoover's mother Annie (Judi Dench), who wants the best from her son. The FBI are put to the test in the 1930's when a crimewave sweeps America, with the likes of John Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson and Pretty Boy Floyd held America to ransom with their brand of outlaw activities during the Great Depression, and the Lindbergh kidnapping, which leads to innovate techniques in trying to track down the kidnappers. In later years, Hoover's grasp of power is weakening, and he ends up having Richard Nixon (Christopher Shyer) wanting to get hold of Hoover's alleged collection of personal and confidential files that he possesses, as well as copies of confidential files.

A film like this was always going to court controversy, maybe Hoover's life is too big for one film, but Eastwood has a good shot at making a biopic of his life from a screenplay by Oscar-winning writer Dustin Lance Black, (Milk (2008) and the TV series Big Love). But, it was always going to be a hard film to make, as not much is known about Hoover's life. He did live with his mother until he died, and he had a very close friendship with his number two man Clyde Tolson until he died, and Tolson inherited his estate. Hoover was a powerful figure, no president in office would dare sack him, as Hoover would threaten to dig up the dirt on that president and make it public. What's interesting is how the film goes about telling his life story, with Hoover as an old man dictating his life story to a number of trusted agents who are typing up his memoirs, and the film zig-zags back and forth between key events in the life of Hoover and the FBI, this film that alleges he was writing an autobiography, ends up as one of the many files that end up shredded by Hoover's secretary Gandy when he died, to protect his legacy, it all came out years later, or at least only a small part anyways. The rest, we'll never know.

The film paints a complex picture of a man who was the subject of many myths and legends, the film scratches the surface when it comes to his alleged homosexuality and Hoover being a cross-dresser, but it doesn't actually get under the surface, maybe because we'll never know the facts. But, Eastwood makes a good, old fashioned film which, bar the strong language and some suggestive material, could have been made back during the golden age of Hollywood, when the Hay's Production Code was still in force. It could have been a multi-million dollar epic, but it scales it back so that it's mostly studio based, with the main settings at Hoover's family home with his mother and in his office at the FBI in Washington. It opens and closes with a jazz like piano number composed by Eastwood himself, (nearly everyone of his later films have opened like that), but it's not a flashy film that doesn't rely on big special effects. In fact, the only special effects is the make up ageing the main cast as the years go past. Some of the make up works, (on DiCaprio, it does with sometimes amazing results), others not so much, (Hammer's Tolson in later years looks a bit like Kryten from Red Dwarf.) But, a film like this was going to be hard to pull off, but Eastwood manages with workmanlike efficiency, if the make-up has variable results, the acting is sublime.

Leonardo DiCaprio has gone from pretty boy pin up to a respected actor by working with all the great directors of our time. He's showing maturity and complexity with the characters he's playing, and there's no-one more complex than J. Edgar Hoover. He plays Hoover over 53 years, and plays him convincingly in each period of his life. Getting Hoover's mannerisms down perfectly, and even getting the old age right, which can be tricky. But, Hoover was a law unto himself who wanted perfect agents, even firing one for having a moustache, but it has parallels with DiCaprio playing Howard Hughes in The Aviator (2004), complex, troubled men who fought hard for what they believed in. Armie Hammer, who played the Winklevoss twins in The Social Network (2010), plays the long-suffering Clyde Tolson, who ends up being close to Hoover, maybe too close, even after a debilitating stroke, Hoover refused to let Tolson go, as he trusted no-one else. Hammer plays Tolson as a man who goes from optimistic lawyer to down-beaten lackey. Naomi Watts is very good as Hoover's secretary Helen Gandy, but she seems to disappear after a little bit, appearing in make-up every now and again in Hoover's autumn years, but the fact she stayed by Hoover's side is amazing, even asking her to type a letter blackmailing Martin Luther King. (Which allegedly never happened.) But, the great Judi Dench comes out best as Hoover's mother Annie, who dotes for her son to do well, but she is a sour old battleaxe, especially as she wanted the Lindbergh baby to be found alive and Hoover's confession to her that he doesn't like dancing with women.

It's a film which might have made a good TV drama or one that only focused on one part of his life, like Capote or The Queen did. But, J. Edgar works as a film, it's difficult but it makes up for that with good performances and brilliant visuals. The camerawork is tight and focused, the sets and costumes go with whichever era the film is focused upon, as states, Eastwood's score is easy-going slow piano jazz with orchestral arias in places. Eastwood does wonders again as a director, he directs with a low-key style, but that's all his films need. They say less is more, and that's very true in Eastwood's case. He doesn't like long shooting days or rehearsals, he just gets in there, says "Go", shoots the scene, and when satisfied, moves on to the next set up. It's quick, efficient and it works. As Eastwood also acts, or used to, he's able to get the best out of his actors, get down to their level on how to command the screen. (Eastwood is about to act again, in the sports drama Trouble With The Curve, good news for people who wanted more from him after Gran Torino.) But, so far, it's his best film of the 2010's, lets hope he has more to come.



J. Edgar was snubbed by the critics who criticised the film for lack of focus and cliched storytelling. But, a film about Hoover's life was never going to be easy, and Eastwood has succeeded where other directors might have stumbled. It's a very good film which isn't as bad as what the critics say, and it's well made too. It's criminal that this didn't get a look in at the Oscars, where the nominations that year were taken up by The Artist, Hugo and Midnight in Paris. This is the sort of film the Academy love, or maybe it was too controversial for them. Even before it's release, the FBI were up in arms over how the film would depict Hoover. But, it's still a good piece of cinema, even if it does miss out a lot of Hoover's other key moments in his life as lawman, (Hoover Vs. Charlie Chaplin, the Mafia investigations of the 1950's and the investigation into JFK's death), but you can only focus on so much in one film, but it works, and it benefits from good acting. DiCaprio might not have been the first person you'd think of for J. Edgar Hoover's life story, (the early years perhaps), but it's casting that pays off and it paints a picture of a man who was the most powerful man in America, as well as it's most complex. There's still a lot we don't know about Hoover, and maybe we'll never know, but the film does it's best, and it works.
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PostSubject: Re: Clint Eastwood's J. Edgar   Fri Apr 20, 2012 7:29 am

Quite looking forward to this one.

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