Saturday, November 19, 2011

What I Saw: J. Edgar

What I Saw:   J. Edgar

American audiences have become accustomed to movie tropes where freedom inevitably bursts through any attempt to control it, where repression is simply a prelude to liberation, and where hiding one’s sexuality is merely a temporary phase preceding a glorious coming out scene. The brilliance of Clint Eastwood’s J. Edgar is that it will have none of that. Power, control and repression are examined in full force, with the lessons taking a contemplative, rather than celebratory, tone.

While many biopic films use a memoir format that contains a twist at the end, J. Edgar tells us early on that he is dictating for political reasons, and that “facts” will be presented as he wants them to be. In this way, the audience is invited, from the beginning, to look upon Hoover as an unreliable narrator, set on controlling our perceptions.

But even though we have been warned against it, we are used to being controlled, and obediently fall victim to his narrative prowess. We are quick to accept his definition of communism and organized crime as dangers, as well as his rendition of the valiant fight against them. We hardly bat an eye as the government extends its power over us in the form of fingerprinting, because we have become so accustomed to being tracked. Even when the film reveals that the Lindbergh baby was used as an excuse for expanding the FBI’s scope, we somehow go along with it under the pretext of protecting the children.

The breaking point comes with the Civil Rights movement and the wiretapping of Martin Luther King. And it is here that the film’s reflections upon power, control and repression come into full flower. It is no accident that Hoover’s closest companions suddenly begin challenging his renditions at the precise moment that the audience does, subtly revealing that even our beliefs about freedom and liberation can be controlled through narrative and visual power.

Eventually Hoover’s own words are turned against him, as the moralistic speech that we know from the trailer is contrasted with historical clips, allowing the audience to decide whether such a man is the solution to our problems or the very thing we must be vigilant against. The majority of viewers will likely make excuses, saying that Hoover’s earlier actions were justified but that he went too far toward the end of his career. A minority, perhaps, will look back and question the earlier actions, as well as their continued impact on our lives. And a very few will wonder: If Hoover had lived longer, or his replacement been more successful in continuing his vision, might we be living in a world where civil rights are as vilified as communism? Or one where our loyalties are torn as they are when we cheer for both mobsters and G-Men in the movies?

Special attention must also be paid to this moving story of gay life in America. Dustin Lance Black’s screenplay powerfully reveals a side of the gay experience that too often gets hidden. It is natural that we in the gay community want to see films like Milk which tell of our successes, or coming out stories where we can relive the moment that we gave up the burdens of the closet. But it is perhaps even more important that we not forget how most of us have had to lead our lives, whether for a day or for a lifetime.

J. Edgar is the opposite of escapist cinema, precisely because it offers no escape. There is no sudden redemption for its characters, no guarantee of political release, and no absolution for straight audiences who perpetuate the closet. It makes you feel trapped, policed, surveilled--and by doing so strikes the perfect emotional tone to show us what the FBI is really about.

Oscar Chances:

Despite my love for this film, other critics have been rather harsh on it. The lessons of the film may be too deep for it to break into the Best Picture and Director races by the end of the year, but I doubt this will hurt its chances in the other categories.

Lead Actor: Leonardo DiCaprio (current Predicted Winner, almost certain to receive a nomination)
Makeup (currently ranked 2)
Supporting Actor: Armie Hammer (currently ranked 2)
Original Screenplay: Dustin Lance Black (currently ranked 2, will likely drop in my next predictions, but still has a chance at the nomination)
Best Picture (currently ranked 5, but will drop in my next predictions unless the critics begin to come to their senses)
Art Direction: James J. Murakami and Gary Fettis (currently ranked 5)
Best Director: Clint Eastwood (currently ranked 6)
Costume Design: Deborah Hopper (currently ranked 6)
Supporting Actress: Judi Dench (currently ranked 9)
Supporting Actress: Naomi Watts (currently ranked 14)
Film Editing: Joel Cox and Gary Roach (currently ranked 12)
Cinematography: Tom Stern (currently ranked 15)
Sound Editing (currently ranked 36)
Sound Mixing (currently ranked 46)
Original Score: Clint Eastwood (currently ranked 10, but will drop dramatically in my next predictions. Honestly, Clint, you should look into hiring an actual composer for your next film.)

My Lamb Score: 4 ½ out of 5 Lambs
What is a lamb score? Click HERE to learn more.
Read more of my reviews HERE.
As always, check the Tracker Pages in the upper right hand corner of this blog for the most updated predictions in all categories!


  1. I think this is the most positive review i've read.

  2. @ dirtywithclass. Yeah, I seem to be an outlier on this one. But at least we know that I write my own reviews!

  3. Nice review. Certainly one of the most positive ones out there. While DiCaprio seems fairly likely to get an Oscar nod, I think the film's reception will prevent him from taking the golden statue home.

  4. Psh, good review. I already know I am going to like this one because I rarely don't like anything with Eastwood's name haha.

  5. great review...i have schecked all the reviews .almost all are negatives..its nice to hear you enjoyed it..i cant wait to watch it....both leo and armie looks great and the trailer is also good

  6. @Castor, His biggest competition seems to be Clooney and Dujardin, but I'm still hoping that Leo can pull it out.

    @Matt S., I'm usually not an Eastwood lover, so it came as a surprise how much this film struck a chord with me.

    @F.Franklin, Try not to let the other reviews influence you (only listen to mine--Hahaha!).

  7. i liked the film...the performances of leo and armie is superb,they deserve an oscar nod.....checkout my review...

  8. Thanks F.Franklin! Checking out now!