Leonardo DiCaprio overcomes dodgy makeup and a selective version of history to give a compelling performance as Godfather of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover. He packs on the pounds and uglies himself up, but not even Leo in top form can stop you clock-watching during this lengthy biopic.
To be fair, there's a lot to get through. A controversial character with a penchant for carrying out surveillance on top politicians, Hoover remained director of the FBI for 48 years. He served under eight US presidents, with none prepared to fire him, even when he pushed the boundaries of the FBI's jurisdiction.
Screenwriter Dustin Lance Black (Milk) and Eastwood take a safe and, at times, clunky approach to the narrative, using flashbacks to flick between Hoover's younger years and his rise to power, and his more reflective older years as he dictates his memoirs to trustworthy typists in an attempt to rewrite history.
His professional accomplishments are duly noted; his belief in having a central crime fighting unit, a national fingerprint database and the introduction of forensic laboratories, as well as his more controversial methods of spying on and persecuting subversives, radicals and civil rights groups.
The film also deals with Hoover's personal life, which was thought to be as scandalous as those he spied on, focusing on his relationship with his domineering mother (Judy Dench), and his close and possibly homosexual relationship with assistant director Clyde Tolson (Hammer).
Hoover and Tolson were inseparable, they worked and holidayed together and their relationship is one of the more interesting strands in this story. The problem is that as Hoover and Tolson get older, DiCaprio and Hammer's rubbery makeup becomes more comical than convincing.
Eastwood isn't interested in interpreting rumours and sticks largely to the facts. The result is a fair and credible biopic, but one which doesn't give us anything new. We know Hoover was driven by ego and ambition, and that he was sexually repressed and socially inept, but we're no clearer at the end of the film about what made him tick than we were in the opening scene. It's a sombre film, beautifully shot in stark simple tones, and true to its time and place. But it's still an underwhelming study of a a fascinating subject.
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Armie Hammer and Naomi Watts
Director: Clint Eastwood
Running time: 137 mins
Rating: M (violence and offensive language)
Verdict: A well-acted but ponderous, sombre affair
- TimeOutBy Francesca Rudkin Email Francesca