Why is it that I prefer biopics and adaptations of historical events over documentaries on said events? I understand the significance of those events, and to an extent, I do enjoy learning about such events. However, documentaries (and textbooks) have been known to bluntly deliver the facts, and while it is important information to know, it's not what I would call "interesting". However, when someone makes an adaptation on such a historical event and/or figure, this usually raises the opportunity to present the emotional side of said events through more dramatic techniques. Sadly, that is the one thing that J. Edgar lacks.
The film is a biopic on J. Edgar Hoover, director of the FBI, played here by Leonardo DiCaprio. It starts off with him as an old man, and we get an overview of his life through a series of flashbacks. We see him attempting to solve the case of bombings, and with that case, he gets appointed to be the director of the Bureau of Investigation. We see his process of hiring the fittest and firing those he thinks are unworthy. We see how he brings scientists into his investigations. We see how he blackmails people and lies about how he solves cases. Most importantly, we see him attempting to solve the mystery behind the kidnapping of Charles Lindbergh.
Am I being too brief with these descriptions? Well, the film is basically a stretched out version of that.
Reiterating what I said earlier, the biggest problem with this film is that it fails to establish emotion. It literally felt like nothing happened throughout the film, or at least, nothing I cared for. I don't really know that much about J. Edgar Hoover, so I don't know if they could've picked any other events to adapt. With that said, the events in this film could've had some form of emotion, but it never really takes the time to develop those emotions.
The film could be thought of as the polar opposite of Drive; in the way that that film only said what needed to be said and let the emotion sink in, this film relies too much on exposition, rushing through everything and rarely ever leaving room for the film to breathe. A good set of examples would be some of the relationships J. Edgar has throughout the film. There's no chemistry established between J. Edgar and his mother, and the gay relationship he has with his partner, Clyde Tolson, seems to come out of nowhere. Honestly, he has more chemistry with his secretary, but even that's pretty weak.
The narrative structure is terribly sloppy. It has a tedious tendency to jump back and forth between the flashbacks and the present time. After doing this a few times, it becomes pretty difficult to keep track of what's going on throughout the film. It almost feels like the film is attempting to capture two stories at once. In fact, why did the film even need to involve flashbacks? It could have just gone over the history of J. Edgar and then led up to him as an old man. Why did they need to work in interviews?
The production tries to fool us into thinking that the film is something it's not. The dialogue is quotable and "elegant," but also pretty meaningless. In fact, the film constantly keeps confusing story development with the simple delivery of such dialogue. The low-key lighting tries to make the film look dark and gritty, but due to the lack of emotion, it just comes off as dull and lifeless. The music is classy and mostly consists of piano tunes, but like with many films I've reviewed here, music does not fool anyone.
The performances are decent, but as I've made pretty clear at this point, they're not really given enough to work with. Leo still ranks up as my all-time favorite actor, and he delivers his usual charisma and elegance here. At times, however, he can look pretty bored, mainly during his old man scenes. The rest of the actors are pretty forgettable because, again, they lack motivation.
J. Edgar is not a terrible movie. It's one of those films where a lot of the talent behind it tries to make the best out of what they have. The production value doesn't fool us into thinking that the film is something it's not, but it's at least well-made for what it's trying to be. Leo delivers a solid performance as expected, but he and the other actors are not given enough to work with. The story suffers from a sloppy narrative structure that jumps between time periods catastrophically and rushes through J. Edgar's events without developing emotion. Trust me when I say you'd be better off reading through J. Edgar's Wikipedia page.
This film is worth $5 out of $20.