J. EDGAR: For all the attention garnered during awards season, an actor's performance is seldom enough to make an average movie good. But that's precisely what Leonardo DiCaprio (INCEPTION) accomplishes in his transformative role as the long-time FBI director who knew the secrets of many prominent politicians even as he shielded the world from his own.
DiCaprio portrays Hoover as a paranoid patriot obsessed with Communism who surrounded himself with a select few people having unwavering loyalty although he pioneered the use of forensics in crime solution. His relationships included a devotion to his mother (Judi Dench) that would have raised Freud's eyebrows as well as a homosexual one with his assistant Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer) that may or may not ever have been sexually consummated.
Dustin Lance Black's (MILK) screenplay is curiously bereft of any events that occurred between the early and later years of Hoover's tenure including what the bureau's role was during World War II and what the red-baiting director thought of McCarthyism during the Cold War era.
The make-up work used to age Hoover and his personal secretary (Naomi Watts) is very welldone while Tolson in his later years looks positively embalmed. The musical score from director Clint Eastwood (MILLION DOLLAR BABY) is effectively minimalist and no filmmaker working uses light and shadow to convey character and mood as well as he does.
This is a movie I'd describe as workmanlike since it's predominantly above average without crossing over into the range of excellence. Despite DiCaprio's subtle yet credible work, the cinematic J. Edgar Hoover is as ultimately enigmatic a figure as he was in real life. It may be that Eastwood, the filmmaker, wanted him portrayed that way.
CRITIC'S GRADE: B
MOVIES I THINK YOU'LL ENJOY WATCHING DURING THE THANKSGIVING HOLIDAYS: AVALON (1990), BABETTE'S FEAST (1987), HANNAH AND HER SISTERS (1986), HUGO (2011), THE MUPPETS (2011), PLANES, TRAINS AND AUTOMOBILES (1987), SQUANTO: A WARRIOR'S TALE (1994), Any James Bond movie showing on cable