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J Edgar

Year: 2011
Production Co: Imagine Entertainment
Director: Clint Eastwood
Producer: Clint Eastwood, Brian Grazer, Ron Howard
Writer: Dustin Lance Black
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Armie Hammer, Naomi Watts, Judi Dench, Dermot Mulroney, Josh Lucas, Stephen Root

Critics haven't been kind to Eastwood's document on the life and times of America's controversial FBI director, and I was a bit blindsided by the wholesale rejection of the film. I gather people wanted it to be a lot more scathing of Hoover and his leadership.

The dark rumours that surrounded his work and personal life are a constant in his legacy, but it seemed Eastwood wanted to both get beyond them and see what drove them.

I also found that with a commanding performance by DiCaprio and a group of accomplished supports like Armie hammer as his deputy Tolson, the plodding direction that's making Eastwood movies harder to enjoy didn't get in the way this time.

Like all good biopics, we see the formative experiences and people who make Hoover who he is, from the mother with whom he seems to have a slightly Oedipal relationship (Dench) to the bombing at the home of his then-boss by communist radicals.

In a very similar structure to The Iron Lady, the film comprises Hoover sitting in his office relating stories of his career to various typists and assistants to publish the book of his life, each episode a flashback to a different era.

Everything from the Lindbergh kidnapping case to the battle for more powers that eventually went too far is portrayed, and I thought the script did a good job of making Hoover a flawed figure, neither hero nor villain. Eastwood seems to have a habit of shooting whatever's in front of him in an almost casual manner so the hamminess that tainted Flags of Our Fathers and Letters From Iwo Jima and made Gran Torino nearly unwatchable is there, but there's enough meat on its bones to satisfy and entertain.

It's also the first time I've ever seen DiCaprio show what an elder statesman of the industry he could become one day, like Eastwood himself. Though he's undoubtedly a star and a good actor, it's been very hard to look beyond his prettiness and boyishness thus far. It wasn't just the physical transformation of his age (he portrays Hoover right into his 70s) or the fact that he looked so much like Philip Seymour Hoffman – I think Hoover shows that he has the makings of a serious character actor for decades to come rather than just a movie star.

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