Sunday, November 13, 2011
J. Edgar's Deep Freeze
The only thing more distracting than the makeup was Leo's WTF accent. The real J. Edgar was born and raised in DC but Leo's accent was utterly different from anyone around him, including his mother, played with quiet menace by Judi Dench.
Then there's the sex, or rather, the lack of it. Apparently, Clint and Dustin would have us believe that J. Edgar and Clyde were inseparable and in love for 40 years; sexually attracted and emotionally bound to each other, and never sexual. Not once. Actually, I can maybe believe that J. Edgar was frigid, considering how Leo played him as thoroughly repressed and tightly-wound. Plus, that mother of his would turn anybody cold inside. Miss Dench/Momma Hoover pulled out the stops when she said she would rather have a dead son than a daffodil for a son. In that moment, I wouldn't have blamed J.Edgar for cutting off his own wiener. But I didn't for a second believe that Armie's Clyde would willingly sign up for a life of celibacy with such an unpleasant tight-ass. Armie played Clyde as a light-in-the-loafers, fun-loving High Queen who enjoyed hobnobbing with the glitterati at The Stork Club. He was charming, handsome, witty, handsome, well-educated, and handsome. He could have had any life he wanted, so why was he so hopelessly in love with J. Edgar? The film never answered this question for me.
One other annoying distraction: Clyde used the term "fashion forward" in a department store scene in 1930. Obviously, this is a recent term. I get what Dustin Lance Black was trying to convey to a modern audience, and it reminded me of the running shoes amid the period pumps in Sophia Coppola's Marie Antoinette. However, Sophia wove modern references and manners throughout the film to great effect. For Dustin, this was a one-time thing and a needless distraction. He could have come up with a phrase appropriate to the time that would have conveyed Clyde's gay cred more effectively.
Otherwise, the film wasn't bad, even when it turned into a Depression era CSI during the long segment devoted to the Lindburgh baby kidnapping and murder. Apparently, J. Edgar introduced modern forensic science to crime solving. How nice. I would have liked to have seen more on his slimy tactics gathering dirt on people and using it against them. There was certainly some of that, including a very powerful scene in which J. Edgar listened to an audio tape, apparently of Dr. King and an anonymous woman enjoing sexual pleasure in a way that J. Edgar never had. That, and a deeper exploration of his life with Clyde would have been a better movie.
Oh yeah, Naomi Watts was in it too. I don't know why they chose an actress of her stature for a role with no emotional arc. "My life is my work," she says early-on for no apparent reason, and then spends her life as J. Edgar's loyal secretary. She does what she can with what she's given, but she's not given much.
All that being said, I'm sure J. Edgar will earn lots of nominations. This is a big, prestige Clint Eastwood picture and that's just the way it is. I don't make the rules. I predict Best Picture, Director for Clint Eastwood, Screenwriting for Dustin Lance Black, Actor for Leonardo DiCaprio, Supporting Actress for Judi Dench, and maybe Supporting Actor for Armie Hammer. It may be nominated for cinematography also, which was inventive though usually so dark and shadowy that I wondered if the electricity had gone off in J. Edgar's office. I kept hoping Naomi Watts would turn on the lights.