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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

J. Edgar (Release Date: 11-11-2011)

        Clint Eastwood is on a cold streak. Sure, just a few short years ago, the former man with no name crafted a string of extremely respected films, from Mystic River, Million Dollar Baby, and Letters from Iwo Jima all garnering Best Picture nominations. Nothing of the sort can be said of his last several talkies, Gran Torino winning audience admiration while failing to truly titillate critics and Oscar voters, The Changeling, Invictus, and Hereafter all inspiring yawns through-out. For Eastwood to make a wholly, 'bad,' film seems impossible by now; The guy has worked his way into an extremely distinctive directorial stamp, his craft and work with actors more or less ensuring that his films will never sink below palatability. What remains to be seen, however, is if a single movie on the back half of his helming career can be anything less than deliriously serious, and taking on a decades-spanning biopic of an american icon doesn't really sound like the way to start having fun.

        His newest joint stars Leonardo DiCaprio as infamous F.B.I. innovator J. Edgar Hoover, following him through his entire, lengthy tenure at the head of the bureau. Late into his life, Hoover dictates something like his memoirs to a small, nervous man in his office. He's currently dealing with a fall-out of sorts, but as we come to learn through rampant flashbacks, surly waters are all that the man has ever really treaded. We see his younger days, somehow being appointed to the head of the bureau in the midst of a mishap between him and his higher-ups, building a relationship with his stoic, trusty personal secretary, Helen Gandy (Naomi Watts). As he accrues more and more power, he appoints a right-hand man, Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer), and the two form an impenetrable bond, spanning decades, straddling laws, and enduring endless paranoia.

        J. Edgar is soul-crushingly straight-faced, existing in a world purged of both laughter and vibrant colors. In other words, it looks and behaves like everything else that the man has done of late, slowly unfolding over the course of two hours and seventeen minutes, featuring enough false endings to make the cast of Lord of the Rings: Return of the King start to feel impatient. Still, this is the best film that old Eastwood has made in a few years, benefiting mostly from its interesting subject matter, and DiCaprio's fierce commitment. The movie almost seems intent on seeing him fail, inviting in scenes of canned, emotionless dialogue, covering his face in horrid old-person make-up (though, my god, does Hammer pull the short straw in this regard), and even dressing the man up in drag. Still, Leo labors on, his hammy accent and bodily deterioration providing intrigue in a wasteland of snoring.

        If it isn't extremely, painfully obvious by now, I'm a pretty firm Eastwood detractor; I find his un-smiling world-view to be extremely redundant, and tend to be frustrated with his ill-lit, washed-out aesthetic. Admittedly, I was engaged for a good deal of J. Edgar, and some scenes really, honestly do pop. But on filmic terms, this has to be viewed as another failure, if for nothing else, simply because the thing lasts for an eternity without ever establishing a shape or real end goal of any kind. The way that Clint jumps back and forth between time without ever offering an exact date makes the man's exploits seem a bit random, lacking perspective on how one past triumph or failure shaped another. It's a slog, one populated by one grand-standing speech after another, colored exclusively in jarring white and muted grey, performed by faces that may or may not be melting as we watch. Not exactly Best Picture material, if you ask me.

Grade: D+

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