Friday, 28 October 2011

J.Edgar News and Reviews


What a transformation: Leonardo DiCaprio is unrecognisable
as an elderly J. Edgar Hoover
October 28th 2011, Sarah Fitzmaurice, Mail Online
With a receding hair line thinning fast, deep lines etched across his weathered face and a stoop that comes with old age Leonardo DiCaprio looks unrecognisable in new stills from his latest film.
The actor, 36, has been transformed to look twice his age as part of his portrayal of J. Edgar Hoover. Leonardo takes on the role of the controversial FBI director in the film J, Edgar, which is set for release in the U.S. at the start of November.
Gone is the floppy blonde fringe Leonardo fans know and love, replaced by liver spots, excess weight around the middle and heavy bags under his eyes as Leonardo portrays the iconic man throughout his life. Hoover is credited with founding the FBI and remained director right up until his death in 1972. In one shot the actor is seen with co-star Armie Hammer, who has also been propelled into old age. In another the actor is playing the law enforcer as an ambitious young man, while a third shows a different side to Hoover as he leaves his dinner guests captivated with conversation at a glamorous meal. The story follows his life as he moulds the Federal Bureau of Investigation into an efficient crime-fighting agency, introducing modern technologies including fingerprinting and forensic laboratories.
Left: Clint directing on the set of J.Edgar
Apart from the physical transformation, which with the help of make-up sees the actor age from his thirties into his seventies, another hurdle DiCaprio has to overcome is alluding to being gay. While Hoover, who served in office between 1924 until 1935, denied he was homosexual, rumours circulated that he had an affair with Clyde Tolson, an associate director of the FBI who was his heir.
During one scene in the back of a taxi, the camera zooms in to see DiCaprio holding hands with Tolson, played by The Social Network star Armie Hammer. Hammer, 25, is a rising US actor who starred as both twins Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss in the social networking biopic centred on Mark Zuckerberg.
The trailer focuses on Hoover's rise to notoriety, with flashback scenes of when he was a young boy, and fast-forwarding to his glory years with the tagline, 'Even great men can be corrupted'.
                                                                                          He later became the face of law enforcement in America for almost 50 years, and was equally feared as he was admired. But behind closed doors, he held secrets that would have destroyed his powerful image, including psychological issues and bending the rules to discover the truth. The star-studded cast also boasts home grown talents Naomi Watts and Judi Dench, who plays DiCaprio's mother.
Million Dollar Baby director Clint Eastwood continues his filmmaking genius behind the lens, while Dustin Lance Black, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of Milk, penned the script. J. Edgar will premiere at the AFI film festival on November 3, and will be released in cinemas in the US a week later. It will be in UK cinemas on January 20.
The Man in Charge
“J. Edgar.”by David Denby
The New Yorker, November 14, 2011
Clint Eastwood’s “J. Edgar” is, of all things, a portrait of a soul. The movie is a nuanced account of J. Edgar Hoover (Leonardo DiCaprio) as a sympathetic monster, a compound of intelligence, repression, and misery—a man whose inner turmoil, tamed and sharpened, irrupts in authoritarian fervor. Eastwood and the screenwriter Dustin Lance Black have re-created that period in the nineteen-twenties and thirties when a righteous young man with a stentorian style could electrify a nation. Outraged by scattered bomb plots and shifting values, Hoover senses that Americans need safety, or, at least, the illusion of safety, and he becomes the vessel of their protection, exercising and justifying, with ironclad rhetoric, his own dominance.

The movie has the structure of a conventional bio-pic. It begins in 1919, when the twenty-four-year-old Hoover, employed by the Justice Department to track “alien subversives,” shows up on his bicycle at the Washington house of his boss, Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer, after it has been bombed by anarchists. The film traces Hoover’s rise from that shocking moment: his creation of the F.B.I., within the Justice Department; his corrupt and intimidating hold on the directorship; his successes, failures, and phobias; and his shaky last days. Yet “J. Edgar” is saved from the usual stiffness of the bio-pic form by the emotionally unsettled nature of its hero, a man vamped and controlled by his mother (Judi Dench), and afraid of his own sexuality, yet desperate for companionship. For decades, Hoover works at the Bureau with Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer) and carries on a chaste love affair with him. The two natty gents go to clubs and the races together, and spend weekends chaffing, quarrelling, and pledging their affections. This Hoover is a tyrant, a liar, and a prig, but he is also, in his impacted way, capable of love.

“J. Edgar”—a collaboration with the activist gay screenwriter of “Milk”—represents another remarkable turn in Clint Eastwood’s career. Remarkable, but not altogether surprising. Eastwood long ago gave up celebrating men of violence: the mysterious, annihilating Westerners and the vigilantes who think that they alone know how to mete out justice. But Clean Edgar, working with an efficient state apparatus behind him, is a lot more dangerous than Dirty Harry. As the filmmakers tell it, the roots of Hoover’s manias lie in his nature. The movie bears a thematic resemblance to Bernardo Bertolucci’s “The Conformist” (1970), in which a repressed homosexual (Jean-Louis Trintignant) in the nineteen-thirties, longing for “normality,” joins the Italian Fascist Party and operates as an amoral bullyboy. “J. Edgar” is the story of how a similarly repressed personality might operate in a democracy. The answer is privately, by accumulating secrets and blackmailing anyone who is even remotely a threat to his standing; and publicly, by making himself and his outfit pop-culture icons and then bending the government to his whim. The frame for the movie is the Director, in old age, dictating the story of his career to a series of young men from the Bureau. Black and Eastwood use this plot device ironically: Hoover is an exceptionally unreliable narrator, and the way Eastwood stages the actual events suggests that Hoover is pumping up his own role and stretching the truth.

The dark-toned cinematography, by Tom Stern, is as redolent of the past as old leather and walnut. The images are heavily shadowed, with faces often seen half in darkness, a visual hint that these people do not know themselves very well. Hoover’s ethics and his style are traditionalist in tone but radical in application. He flourishes at a time when powerful men are perfectly groomed and dressed—and cloaked in secrecy. Fanatically dedicated to appearances, they are fooling themselves, perhaps, as much as others. In the movie’s portrait of pre-electronic America, Hoover pierces those appearances with wiretaps, bugs, and the lowly file card, an early database that, aided by his longtime secretary, Helen Gandy (Naomi Watts), he wields to devastating effect. Nonetheless, Hoover is fixated on his own image and on that of the Bureau. Outraged that the public is enjoying the panache of Jimmy Cagney as a gangster, in such early-thirties pictures as “The Public Enemy,” Hoover lends his name and his support to Hollywood films, and, by the middle of the decade, Cagney is firing a gun on behalf of the government.

Hoover may be treated semi-satirically, but neither Black nor Eastwood suggests that the dangers and the national weaknesses he combatted early in his career were illusory. In 1920, crime detection was primitive. Hoover insists that the country needs an armed national police force and modern forensic methods—a fingerprint bank, up-to-date labs, and the like. Bursting into rooms at the Justice Department, and shouting down objections, he orders equipment, space, and training, and holds everyone to account. His new scientific methods lead, in 1934, to the capture of Bruno Hauptmann, the kidnapper of the Lindbergh baby. The complicated story of the Bureau is dramatized in flashes, as an emanation of Hoover’s will. This technique is inadequate as history but almost inevitable in a movie. What interests Black and Eastwood more than institutional lore is what Hoover did with the power he accumulated.
Again and again, he goes too far, treating Communist rhetorical bluster as the first stages of revolution, assembling lists of people whose opinions he considers suspect, fabricating documents, planting stories in the newspapers, bludgeoning potential enemies with his file drawers of sexual gossip. A single scene with Robert F. Kennedy (Jeffrey Donovan)—in the early sixties, when, as Attorney General, he was Hoover’s boss—stands in for Hoover’s relations with the various Presidents who longed to be rid of him but didn’t dare show him the door. Hoover tells Kennedy that he has evidence of his brother’s sexual escapades with dubious women, and his job remains intact. His smarmy prurience becomes a factor in national policy. He and Tolson giggle over an intercepted letter to Eleanor Roosevelt from Lorena Hickok, the reporter who became Roosevelt’s close friend and, possibly, her lover. As an old man, he holes up in a room to listen to tape recordings of Martin Luther King, Jr., having sex with a woman in a hotel. Eastwood stages the sexual scene as shadows on a wall. Hoover’s immobile, fascinated face is the obscene element in the episode.
The film moves fast, but Eastwood’s touch is light and sure, his judgment sound, the moments of pathos held just long enough. And he cast the right star as his equivocal hero-fool. In the past, such beetle-browed heavyweights as Broderick Crawford, Ernest Borgnine, and Bob Hoskins have played Hoover. By using DiCaprio, and then aging him with prosthetic makeup, Eastwood lets us see how a slender, good-looking young man might thicken and coarsen with years and power. DiCaprio, extending his vowels into a Washington drawl (Hoover was a local boy), focusses energy in his bulldog forehead; the body, increasingly sausage-packed into tight-fitting suits as Hoover gets older, is immobile, unused, mere weight. DiCaprio never burlesques Hoover, but when he meets Armie Hammer’s Tolson in his office for the first time he breaks into a sweat. Hammer—tall, handsome, suave yet gentle, with a sweet smile—gives a charming, soft-shoe performance that, in a memorable scene, explodes into jealous rage.
Hoover was in power for almost fifty years, and the filmmakers leave out many particulars of his reign. Despite frequent references to Hoover’s loathing of Communism (which he convinces himself is poisoning the civil-rights movement), Eastwood and Black omit his active role in the rise of the Red-baiting pols Joseph McCarthy and Richard Nixon. The filmmakers concentrate on the Bureau’s successes in capturing or killing the tommy-gun bank robbers of the thirties but overlook Hoover’s odd, and possibly corrupt, unwillingness to take organized crime seriously, even as, in the forties and fifties, the Mafia was draining millions from the economy. Liberals will find much in the movie that condemns Hoover’s trampling of civil liberties, but may be dismayed by the insistence that an emerging national power needed a secret police force. Gay activists may be disappointed by the filmmakers’ restrained assumptions about Hoover’s sexuality, though the destructive effects of self-denial have rarely been dramatized in such withering detail. Hoover, we realize, is obsessed with keeping America safe because he feels unsafe himself. Internal subversion is a personal, not just a political, threat to him. No stranger man—not even Nixon—has ever been at the center of an American epic.
J. Edgar By Peter Travers, Rolling Stone.
November 10, 2011
Say this for Leonardo DiCaprio: He doesn't scare off easy from acting challenges. At 37, he's already played billionaire Howard Hughes (The Aviator), junkie Jim Carroll (The Basketball Diaries), great imposter Frank Abagnale Jr. (Catch Me If You Can) and Shakespeare's Romeo. In J. Edgar, DiCaprio ages from his twenties to his seventies to play America's feared and loathed top cop. And despite being buried in layers of (often too obvious) prosthetic latex, DiCaprio is a roaring wonder in the role. He needs to be. Until his death in 1972, J. Edgar Hoover ruled the Federal Bureau of Investigation like a bulldog no one would dare leash. That includes eight presidents, Martin Luther King Jr. and even Marilyn Monroe. For half a century Hoover nosed into private lives to control his enemies, and some friends. But Hoover had secrets too, and now acclaimed director Clint Eastwood, 81, and Oscar-winning Milk screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, 37, are doing the nosing around.


The result is a movie exhilarated by biting off more than it can chew, a great boon especially when the pacing goes from rushed to dramatically inert. The tabloid version of Hoover as a cross-dressing closet queen is addressed, but not exploited. Black's script isn't linear; it jumps back and forth in time with impressionistic glee, hoping to get a fix on an unknowable public figure.
The film focuses on those closest to J. Edgar: his autocratic mother, Annie Hoover (a splendid Judi Dench); his protective secretary, Helen Gandy (a sutured Naomi Watts); and FBI associate director Clyde Tolson (a live-wire Armie Hammer), the lawyer who became J. Edgar's constant companion.
Of course, Hoover's greatest obsession was America and his need to protect it from commies and radicals. In dark and weighted images, Eastwood charts Hoover's rise and all-consuming myth-building. Though Hoover did popularize fingerprinting and the collection of forensic evidence (the CSI TV franchise is in his debt), he liked giving himself credit where it wasn't due, for killing gangster John Dillinger, solving the kidnapping of Charles Lindbergh's baby, and being the ultimate G-man, making arrests and capturing bad guys. Eastwood busts that myth with the same fury with which he undercut the codes of the Old West in Unforgiven.
To its credit, Black's admittedly speculative script keeps nudging into J. Edgar's secret heart. Did sublimated sexuality drive Hoover into megalomania? Annie registers what's going on between her son and Clyde. In a wrenching scene, she derides any hint of effeminate behavior ("I'd rather have a dead son than a daffodil"). And DiCaprio and Hammer do wonders with mere suggestion, that is, when melodrama and old-age makeup allow for nuance. Even when the film trips on its tall ambitions, you can't shake it off.
'J. Edgar': Hoover's Life, in a Dramatic Vacuum By JOE MORGENSTERN
The Wall Street Journal

As the peerlessly powerful and widely feared director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation over the course of almost five decades, J. Edgar Hoover saw himself in a constant state of war—against radicals, gangsters, Communists and any politicians, including presidents, who tried to get in his way. "J. Edgar," with Leonardo DiCaprio in the title role, is at war with itself, and everyone loses. Clint Eastwood's investigation of Hoover's life and tumultuous times seeks the cold facts behind the crime-fighter myths, the flesh-and-blood man behind the dour demeanor and the rumors of homosexuality. Yet Mr. Eastwood's ponderous direction, a clumsy script by Dustin Lance Black and ghastly slatherings of old-age makeup all conspire to put the story at an emotional and historical distance. It's a partially animated waxworks.



3 comments:

cahill said...
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Gary Dobbs/Jack Martin said...

I've picked this up on DVD today - was scared off by the negative reviews but I'm going to watch it this evening and will add another comment giving my thoughts.

Clint's archive said...

Hello Gary, many thanks my friend - would very much welcome your thoughts - please excuse the above layout - I am in the middle of changing the layout of the site - so it will look better ;-)