x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

J Edgar is a bland biopic of a fascinating life

The fact that it's not in the awards running is testament to this film's mediocrity.

Leonardo DiCaprio as J Edgar Hoover. Courtesy Warner Bros
Leonardo DiCaprio as J Edgar Hoover. Courtesy Warner Bros

Director: Clint Eastwood
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Armie Hammer, Naomi Watts
**

J Edgar Hoover is one of the great characters of 20th-century America. The first director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the police organisation he was instrumental in founding in 1935, he held files and knew secrets about all the major figures in American politics. History has not been kind to Hoover, revealing him to be a contradictory figure with many foibles. He used the law to his own ends and abused his position of power. With DiCaprio in the title role and directed by Eastwood, this should have Oscar written all over it. The fact that it's not in the awards running is testament to how bland this biopic is.

The irony is that the film is dour because Eastwood plays to his own directing strengths: shooting an authoritative account of Hoover's life, never grandstanding, he attempts to give a balanced view of his central protagonist. Normally this would be commendable. Here, it just muddies the waters and dilutes topics of any edge or interest. Hoover's ambiguous relationship with his aide Clyde Tolson (Hammer from The Social Network) is presented as largely chaste, the Oedipal complex with his mother (Judi Dench) is textbook movie fare, and Watts is almost a peripheral figure as his trusted secretary whom he once hoped to marry. DiCaprio spends most of the time under prosthetics as he's aged up. Sadly, less effort is made with the tepid dialogue or with getting to the root of Hoover's foibles.