DRAMA; 2hr 17min
STARRING: Leonardo DiCaprio, Armie Hammer, Naomi Watts, Judi Dench
The enforcer: DiCaprio
The John Edgar Hoover of director Clint Eastwood’s wide-ranging yet uninvolving study is a chilly paradox. Director of the FBI from 1924 to 1972, Hoover believed to his bones that “information is power,” spending his life in pugnacious pursuit of other people’s secrets while feverishly hoarding his own.
Dustin Lance Black’s duck-and-weave screenplay moves between the experience-scarred Hoover of the 1970s and the spiky scientific trailblazer he started out as in the 1920s. DiCaprio, earnestly scrunched even as a young man and encased in transformative prosthetics at seniority, is all go with Hoover’s machine-gun delivery and fixated bristle. His J. Edgar is a mass of paradoxes: the rat-tat speech covers a tendency to stammer while the public self-promotion and private awkwardness are two sides of a contradictory coin. Was he a paranoid zealot, a diehard patriot, or — as Clyde Tolson (Hammer), courtly fellow agent and the apparently chaste love of Hoover’s life, put it in an uncharacteristic rage — “a scared, heartless, horrible little man”? All three, perhaps, and difficult to warm to as any one.