May 18, 2013
Written by Mark Schumann, Father of Three
Thursday, 17 November 2011 13:29
Each week, the Reel Dad checks the nutritional value of a movie — new or classic — to help parents choose what to watch. This week’s pick is a new film from Clint Eastwood, J. Edgar.We never knew J. Edgar Hoover, the first director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. He crafted a public persona as a relentless man of law and honor, creatively using television (the superficial series The FBI) and movies (the official FBI Story). But we never knew what drove this man to build the federal agency and create his own mysterious reputation.
Leave it to Clint Eastwood, advancing his creative excellence at an age when many slow down, for daring to get inside the man and his ambitions. Without following predictable patterns of the standard Hollywood bio-pic, the 81-year-old director pierces beneath the veneer to create an indelible portrait of the private demons Hoover spent a lifetime trying to cover up.
With Leonardo DiCaprio delivering his strongest performance, Eastwood focuses less on Hoover’s professional accomplishments — and publicity stagings — and more on the relationships that shape his views and ignite his ambitions. Central to his identity is a strong mother who maintains control over his emotional substance well into Hoover’s adult life. That she should have the power to submerge his personal needs fuels the man’s drive to overwhelm his private sadness with professional acclaim.
Eastwood saves the most surprising insight for Hoover’s long-rumored relationship with Clyde Tolson, the associate director at the agency and the primary companion of his adult life. The director — working from a strong screenplay by Dustin Nance Black, who won an Oscar for Milk — challenges the public persona that Hoover meticulously crafted to reveal a tormented man without the ability to nurture his emotional hunger. Defined by his time, and fearful for his feelings, Hoover hardens himself into a cold-hearted leader determined to advance his brand; emotionally, however, he remains the little boy desperate for his mother’s love and searching for a best buddy.
As with all Eastwood films, J. Edgar establishes its own world and proceeds at a carefully set pace. His work here is so subtle, so beautifully modulated, as he rarely lets the camera stop examining the central character. Where other, less confident directors might insert standard action sequences — given the nature of the content — Eastwood refuses to deliver the conventional. He knows precisely what he wants his movie to be and never veers from his point of view.
Eastwood coaches his actors into extraordinary portrayals. For DiCaprio, long inhibited by his youthful appearance, the multi-layered role offers the chance to delve more deeply into a character than any of his previous work, even his Oscar-nominated turn as Howard Hughes in The Aviator. Matching him every step is Armie Hammer — best known for playing the Winklevoss twins in The Social Network — who captures every nuance of Tolson’s deep affection for the turbulent Hoover. And Judi Denich so perfectly crafts her portrayal of Hoover’s mother that we are stunned when, late in the film, she reveals her true views of his life.
J. Edgar is Eastwood’s triumph. Who would have guessed, years ago, that the man who said so few words in Spaghetti Westerns would emerge as one of film’s most consistent and creative directors. Or that, when he turned 70, his best work was yet to come. We can’t wait to see what he next explores. With the triumphant J. Edgar, we finally may know this man, as much as he never knew himself.
* Content: High. Avoiding all the typical clichés of the movie biography, J. Edgar manages to ask as many questions as it dares to answer.
* Entertainment: High. With such a complex central character, it’s no surprise the film is enormously entertaining as it probes the mysterious man’s life.
* Message: High. No matter how famous someone may be, the truth of someone’s life usually lies deep beneath the veneer they create.
* Relevance: High. Any opportunity to explore a leading historical figure, especially when crafted by a brilliant director, offers real movie meaning.
* Opportunity for Dialogue: High. After you share this film, talk with your older children about what they discovered about the man, the myths he created and the meaning he searched for.
(J. Edgar is rated R and runs 137 minutes.)
5 Popcorn Buckets
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