After loving Dustin Lance Black’s screenplay for Milk, I’m sorely disappointed with what he did – or should I say, what he didn’t do – with his J. Edgar screenplay. He seems to have pulled all the facts contained on the J. Edgar Hoover Wikipedia page and needlessly crammed each and every single one of them into a shallow and emotionless narrative that follows the exact same forumla as his Milk script did – only Harvey Milk told his story to a tape recorder and J.Edgar Hoover dictates his to a man on a typewriter.
Clint Eastwood has publicly stated that he rarely directs his actors or crew, that he hires proven professionals who already know how to do their jobs so that he doesn’t tell them how to. In essence, during filming, he sits on a chair, stares at a monitor and yells “Action!” and “Cut!” More than ever, his laxidasical style of directing is evident in J. Edgar. Everyone seems to think they’re making a different movie. Leonardo DiCaprio thinks he’s making Citizen Kane. Naomi Watts is has no idea why she’s playing this bit role. At first Armie Hammer thinks he’s playing a gay version of the Winklevoss twins, then, once the bad “old man” make-up is applied, he starts playing a stereotypical caricature of an elderly man. It’s all over the place.
But the biggest problem stems from the long, drawn out, inconclusive screenplay. The two-plus hour film quickly glazes over everything Hoover did, from forming the FBI and searching for the Lindberg baby to applying the Dewey Decimals system to the library of congress and breaking the news to Robert Kennedy that his brother was assassinated. All of those thing fly right by – but what’s the glue that holds the whole thing together? What is common idea that J. Edgar insists on conveying to us – that Hover may or may not have been gay. It doesn’t even have the balls to come out and say it, it only implies it here and there. It whispers this idea, but isn’t willing to commit to it.
Had J. Edgar focused on a single part of his life -perhaps the FBI work only – it would have been interesting, but it’s not. It’s superficial, boring, cluttered and lazy. It’s never intriguing. It never gets you emotionally involved. DiCaprio will receive Best Actor nomination here or there, but this movie will ultimately be forgotten.
Photo credit: Warner Bros.