Clint Eastwood’s attempted epic on the life of J. Edgar Hoover falls short of the incredible period drama many seemed to be expecting, however, J. Edgar is still a finely crafted and well acted film. While many directors may recommend against it, J. Edgar attempts to encapsulate a man’s entire existence, the story of his life from childhood to death. While this film does skip over the childhood and teen years, the concept of visually displaying so much of a man’s life grows tiring, and it may have been advisable to have created a deeper, more focused film on a shorter timeline of say, 20 years, opposed to the 50+ years this movie deals with.
That being said, few films can so smoothly encompass more than five decades of history with such ease. J. Edgar certainly looks the part, and as a period film is at times wondrous. The essential flaw seems to be the end of the film. While in Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator, (also starring Leonardo DiCaprio) Howard Hughes is only shown in the middle years of his life. A similar technique may have been advisable for this film, as the ending features a drawn out goodbye to the characters and even some unnecessary scenes, as The Aviator may have incorporated had it tried to tell Hughes’ life after he retreated to his Las Vegas home.
J. Edgar Hoover seemed to know what was going on at all times, he even kept tabs on the Presidents and their spouses. He also maintained a strong public image for over 50 years, something Clint Eastwood seems to show some admiration for in the making of this film. Hoover was always ensuring that he was the one in the public eye, not for reasons of personal stardom, but to show that he and his G-men were constantly breathing down the necks of all criminals in America. He envied Melvin Purvis for getting John Dillinger, and even demoted him, as Hoover wanted America to believe that he was standing right there when Dillinger was caught outside that theater.
The supporting cast consists of Arnie Hammer, Judi Dench and Naomi Watts, each of whom suit their respective roles. Clint Eastwood’s direction shows a confidence in his work and an understanding of history. This is the kind of film we could never expect from a much younger director. The movie is filmed with stark contrast, many scenes seeming so gray they might as well be black-and-white. This fits the tone of the film well, and along with the showcasing of fine acting, is part of what makes this movie work. Unfortunately, the film drags on near the end and misses out on some of the deeper messages it tries to bring across, and falls short of what may have been expected from such a skilled director and lead actor pairing up. Despite its flaws, J. Edgar is still worth watching for all of its other compelling qualities.