11/31: J. Edgar
I have no idea what the movie is trying to do. I only know that it fails on almost every level save the acting, and even that isn't great; it's merely not as disastrous as the script and the direction. This is a film that has J. Edgar Hoover (Leonardo DiCaprio) describing his daily workout routine to his soon-to-be alleged whatever, Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer, valiantly pretending he's playing an actual character instead of an end table): "Pushups, sit-ups, and…squatting." Forget a double entendre; half an entendre is status to which that line can still only aspire. Dustin Lance Black's clumsy script also forces Hoover to say through tears to his longtime assistant/abettor, Helen Gandy (Naomi Watts), "Do I kill everything I love?" Well, no. You don't. The whap upside the head with the J volume of the Junior Britannica passing as dialogue around here — that's gonna take out a few women and children.
DiCaprio's rendition of Hoover is almost impossible to assess, given the fog of atomized horseshit he's forced to operate in throughout. He's doing his best, but he seems exhausted onscreen, weighed down by the prosthetic jowls, and by nonsense like Jeffrey Donovan's Clone High-ish accent in his one scene as RFK ("Yew can go now, Mistah Hoovah"); the umpteen scenes reviewing Hoover's inappropriate closeness with his mommy (Judi Dench), and the scene immediately after her death in which he puts on her necklace and dress, then collapses to the floor, presumably felled by the cartoonish indolence of the writing; Hoover's excitement over taking a date to a card catalog; Tolson's stroke, which I described in my notes thusly: "SOMEONE GET A DOCTOR! HE'S GOT MAKEUP POISONING!"
A lot of things went wrong here, and Public Enemy #1 (if you'll forgive the reference) is the script. Black apparently couldn't commit to a full survey-style bio-pic, so instead, we get a few key sequences meant to symbolize the whole, and that too fails, particularly the focus on the Lindbergh-baby kidnapping. If you know the details of that case, which I do because I'm a true-crime nerd, the numerous inaccuracies will drive you nuts; perhaps the point is that Hoover purposely misrepresents his importance to that case because he's a self-aggrandizing ass, but that intent isn't clear. If you don't know the details of that case, the repeated returns to it are merely boring and didactic, like the rest of the film.
The dialogue is even worse — all telling, no showing, and repetitive to boot. The portrait of Hoover that emerges is a slapped-together Wikipedia stub that retails antediluvian ideas about closeted homosexuality and its causes, then sketches the man's racist paranoia as the quaint ramblings of an eccentric uncle. The actors, all pros, do the best they can, but the writing makes their jobs impossible; the only available dimension for any of them is "dour asshole."
I recall one review admiring the shot of Hoover listening to the Dr. King sex tapes with his face half in shadow. Please. That isn't a directorial decision. It's the filmmaking equivalent of an automated out-of-office email. J. Edgar is a stale, badly written diorama whose amateurish character shorthand kills its actors' shots at statues. No bet.
Tags: 31 Days 31 Films Armie Hammer bad screenplay no biscuit Clone High Clyde Tolson dork Venns Dustin Lance Black J. Edgar J. Edgar Hoover Jeffrey Donovan Judi Dench Leonardo DiCaprio movies Naomi Watts Oscars 2012 Death Race single entendres