DiCaprio and Eastwood Flesh Out America’s Most Dangerous Cop

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Today, even though EVERYONE seemed to see Immortals (and given its $32M box office performance, probably twice) I didn’t. Too swords-y and sandal-y. Then there are those certain scenes, which are evidently so grotesque and violent that they’re now the topic of huge internet debates. Ancient Greek torture devices? Entrails in 3D? Nah.

Why listen to all that hooey when you can watch Leonardo DiCaprio shine as one of the 20th century’s most formidable and controversial figures: J. Edgar Hoover. Oh, and one of the 20th century’s most bizarre figures too. Just a totally weird cat and, as portrayed (in what will likely garner DiCaprio an Oscar nod) a troubled one as well. But fascinating, to say the least. Definitely go see J.Edgar if you’re curious – it’s completely worthwhile.  The movie spans Hoover’s adult life and covers his essential creation of the modern FBI; it’s also about his lifelong relationship with companion Clyde Tolson, known as Hoover’s “alter ego”. Also smashing in the movie is Armie Hammer as Tolson; this guy wowed people in The Social Network and that’s no fluke – he’s fabulous here too.

J. Edgar is a really good movie. It’s not a great one, and part of my complaint is (literally) cosmetic – the old age makeup is beyond distracting. In this age when automobiles run on canola oil and you can pinpoint a kitchen sink with Google Earth, is there some reason why we can’t get the aging process down in films? Shouldn’t there be some laser and computer gizmo that makes people look older realistically? That’s the hitch with J. Edgar – and it’s a shame because no matter how terrific DiCaprio is – and he is wonderful – you can’t help but feel a little distracted every time they show Hoover and Tolson as old men.The movie probably has the largest cast in theaters today (because I’m pretty sure the 10,000 Greek soldiers in Immortals were added after the scenes were shot). Plus, it’s filled with first-rate talent: Judi Dench, Naomi Watts, Denis O’Hare, Josh Lucas and Jeffrey Donovan – and each does a great job capturing the era. It was also directed by Clint Eastwood, known on Hollywood sets to be quiet and extremely methodical. To a fault – some of Eastwood’s films have been called slow (see Hereafter with Matt Damon) – but this isn’t one of them. It’s long, but it’s riveting and when Hoover and Tolson are together, it’s heartbreaking. These were two men who ate every meal together and vacationed together, but no one has ever known if they were romantically involved. Eastwood handles the speculation beautifully, and he and DiCaprio genuinely show us the human side of a megalomaniacal monster who destroyed any number of people’s lives.

In fact, as an historical biopic it’s just awesome, the kind of film that should be required viewing for all US history classes. Hoover’s personal life is still the subject of intense debate, thus Eastwood and co. do a fair amount of speculating. And while Judi Dench is no Mommie Dearest, you definitely get a Psycho vibe in the way mother and son interact.

J. Edgar is also pretty dense and there’s a ton going on – maybe a movie worth seeing twice. I just wish they could get that makeup figured out or at least set all the shots by candlelight or something so Armie Hammer doesn’t look like a composite of both Billy Crystal and Carol Kane in the Princess Bride. Other than that, J. Edgar’s really an excellent film.

Today’s poll:

Clint Eastwood directed J. Edgar, now in theaters. Which of these other Eastwood films is your favorite?

1) Million Dollar Baby 

2) Flags of Our Fathers 

3) Mystic River 

4) Unforgiven 

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