Director: Clint Eastwood
Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Armie Hammer, Naomi Watts, Josh Lucas, Judi Dench, Ed Westwick, Stephen Root, Denis O'Hare, Damon Herriman
J. Edgar should have dominated the 2012 Academy Awards. The intimate story of one of American history's most controversial figures, directed by Clint Eastwood, and starring Leonardo DiCaprio? All J. Edgar needed to ensure some Oscar attention was a co-starring Meryl Streep and the Coen Brothers handling second unit camerawork.
The pioneer of law enforcement as we know it today, J. Edgar Hoover was the first director of the F.B.I., as well as a closeted homosexual with serious mommy issues. But in Eastwood's hands, Hoover was reduced to a melodramatic puppet in an unfocused mishmash of real-life events not connected by any real narrative thread. DiCaprio's performance is excellent, mind you—ultimately, he's done a disservice in a hollow film that only looks like an award-worthy biopic.
And as awkward-looking as DiCaprio's and co-star Armie Hammer's old man makeup work appears, it'd be excusable if J. Edgar gave any sort of definitive opinion of Hoover to allow viewers to care about who's behind the prosthetics. By the film's end, you're not sure whether the man was a kind, misunderstood softie or a ruthless, go-getting enforcer. He's shown both ways here, though at least the former puts DiCaprio in women's clothing for a scene that's unintentionally hilarious.