Leonardo DiCaprio is 37. In “J. Edgar,” he plays both a young, 20s-ish J. Edgar Hoover, the first director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and a J. Edgar in his 70s. That takes an actor with the caliber and range of talent that only DiCaprio can bring to the silver screen.
If for that performance alone, see “J. Edgar,” though there is much more to the film -- at times, too much more.
Other than DiCaprio’s performance, “J. Edgar” can be defined by the word “gray.” Director Clint Eastwood brought a gray, overcast feeling to this movie, and it’s apparent in the set, the movie’s tone, and the film’s palette. Everything just seems gray and gloomy, so much that the blue-eyed DiCaprio seems to have black, beady, little eyes often filled with paranoia.
Perhaps it’s because Eastwood is trying to show that J. Edgar Hoover was a strange, lonely man with a life defined by delusion, and his world really is gray.
“J. Edgar” chronicles Hoover’s career, from the moment he knew as a boy he wanted to become an investigator until his last day of work: the day he died in 1972, at age 77.
Even though there were scenes when the prosthetics that aged DiCaprio were obvious and he looked more like a toad than a man, he managed to overcome the makeup and put on a brilliant performance.
Armie Hammer (“The Social Network”), who plays associate director and Hoover’s longtime confidante and possibly secret love interest Agent Clyde Tolson, was fantastic as well, until near the end of the movie, when Hammer was slathered with far too much prosthetic makeup and age spots that it was distracting.
Prosthetics aside, the powerhouse acting moved the film as far as it could, but like many a historical biofilm, it was too long. Two hours and seventeen minutes worth of storyline could easily have been cut down by a half hour.
History buffs won’t mind. The film cycles through several presidents and major American figures, like Martin Luther King Jr., and periods (like the first Red Scare following WWI to the reign of the gangster), and reliving that storied time in the U.S. is something Eastwood excelled at with this film.
Judi Dench, who plays Hoover’s mother, is another reason to see the film. She and DiCaprio display the weird mother/son bond (sometimes Hoover is creepily reminiscent of Norman Bates in “Psycho”…seriously) that partially explains why Hoover becomes the scared but megalomaniacal man that he does.
If not for Best Picture, “J. Edgar” will certainly score some acting nominations at this year’s Academy Awards -- if you want a head start on that race, see this movie.