( Max score: 100 )
Leonardo DiCaprio (Inception, Blood Diamond) stars as J. Edgar Hoover, head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation for nearly 50 years. Hoover was feared, admired, reviled and revered, a man who could distort the truth as easily as he upheld it. His methods were at once ruthless and heroic, with the admiration of the world his most coveted prize. But behind closed doors, he held secrets that would have destroyed his image, his career and his life. Oscar Winner Clint Eastwood (Gran Torino, Million Dollar Baby, Unforgiven) directs an all-star cast including Naomi Watts (21 Grams), Armie Hammer (The Social Network) and Oscar Winner Judi Dench (Shakespeare in Love) as Hoover's overprotective mother.
The synopsis provided in the press jacket for J. Edgar perfectly synopsizes the film's theme so I decided to include it.
During his lifetime, J. Edgar Hoover would rise to be the most powerful man in America. As head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation for nearly 50 years, he would stop at nothing to protect his country. Through eight presidents and three wars, Hoover waged battle against threats both real and perceived, often bending the rules to keep his countrymen safe. His methods were at once ruthless and heroic, with the admiration of the world his most coveted, if ever elusive, prize.
Hoover was a man who placed great value on secretsparticularly those of othersand was not afraid to use that information to exert authority over the leading figures in the nation. Understanding that knowledge is power and fear poses opportunity, he used both to gain unprecedented influence and to build a reputation that was both formidable and untouchable.
He was as guarded in his private life as he was in his public one, allowing only a small and protective inner circle into his confidence. His closest colleague, Clyde Tolson, was also his constant companion. His secretary, Helen Gandy, who was perhaps most privy to Hoover's designs, remained loyal to the end... and beyond. Only Hoover's mother, who served as his inspiration and his conscience, would leave him, her passing truly crushing to the son who forever sought her love and approval.
I went into this review knowing little about the film other than the positive comments that I had heard regarding Leonardo DiCaprio's performance in the title role. The film tells the story of how Hoover first came to be involved in the Department of Justice and then how he built what would become the F.B.I from a fledgling government agency into the powerful law enforcement entity that it is today. The narrative additionally depicts his close interpersonal relationships with his mother, a force in his life, his lifelong companion, associate and confidant Clyde Tolson and his trusted and loyal secretary Helen Gandy. Hoover was brilliant and innovative/forward thinking but also flawed and paranoid. In many ways much of who he was and what he did remains a mystery even to this day. The film makes reference to the possibility that he was homosexual and romantically involved with Clyde although this is for dramatic effect as it was never substantiated. The story is told in Hoover's words via a flashback narrative style that moves between the various periods in his life and the present which is near the end of his career/life. J. Edgar definitely has a docudrama feel that has epic aspirations. The problem is that it struggles with focus both in context and direction. I think part of this was in an attempt to tell it like it was and let the audience decide what they thought of the man and part of it was due to Eastwood wanting to convey one perspective while writer Dustin Lance Black wanted to convey another. The pacing suffers as a result and the film just feels too long. The saving grace is the marvelous performance by Leonardo DiCaprio and the strong supporting turn by Armie Hammer which along with the film's factual data keep it afloat. I also enjoyed Tom Stern's wonderful cinematography which aided in telling the story. The real message found in this film is that ultimate power corrupts absolutely and there are few examples of this that are better than J. Edgar Hoover.
The rating is for brief strong language and thematic material.
J. Edgar comes to Blu-ray Disc from Warner Home Video featuring 1080p AVC encoded video that has an average bitrate of 18 Mbps and lossless DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio sound that has an average bitrate of 3.2 Mbps.
This is a solid high definition transfer that looks excellent. Images are transparent with exquisite detail and a near infinite sense of depth. Fidelity is never in question regardless of perspective. At times I found the visual style to be engaging. Colors are kept within the scope of the historical time frame which means lots of browns, grays, greens and blacks. There is a sepia toned aesthetic that permeates many sequences that when combined with the use of shading/uneven light imparts an inordinate and interesting quality. The filtered chromatic range is purposefully limited to muted primary colors and softer secondary hues. That coupled with the drab lighting schemes and often dark cinematography makes for a visually pallid but thematically affecting look. Skin tones among the cast don't vary much and fall in line with the look of the film in all but a few instances where the make-up effects made them appear a bit chalkie, balmy or both. Blacks are inky, dynamic and stable and contrast is bold and punchy without overdriving whites/grays and washing out detail. This is a noticeably stylized and impressive hig definition video presentation that looked great on my big screen.
The DTS-HD MA soundtrack handles the film's predominantly dialogue driven elements with aplomb. Voices have discernible characteristics with excellent room penetration and tonal description. Low level detail contained within the recording is appreciable which allows even the lowest spoken passages or discretely delivered background ambience to be distinct. Other than one rather bombastic moment early in the film the soundstage is essentially front oriented with the rear channels supplying mild ambience along with a few discretely placed effects (such as off camera cues) that broaden depth. This isn't an active surround mix but its use of the entire system to enhance presence as dictated by the film's elements works well.
No one sees themselves as the villain. J. Edgar depicts the life and career of one of the most influential and powerful men ever to hold office. Many aspects of who he was and what he knew will forever remain a mystery. One thing is for certain, ultimate power corrupts absolutely. In the hands of writer Dustin Lance Black and director Clint Eastwood J. Edgar lacks definitive focus but remains afloat on the strength of its interesting subject and Leonardo DiCaprio's stellar performance. It comes to Blu-ray from Warner Home Video featuring terrific high definition video, crystal clear DTS-HD Master Audio sound and a light supplemental offering that consists of an interesting but short documentary/featurette, and a bonus DVD/Digital copy. J. Edgar isn't a perfect film but it is worth seeing so drop it in your rental queue and take it for a spin.