Brian Henry Martin at the movies

J. Edgar - The verdict

Published Thursday, 19 January 2012
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Casting in movies is crucial; get it right and you are on track to make a classic, get it wrong and not even a great script, director or talented co-stars will save you from sinking.

Unfortunately director Clint Eastwood has made a fatal error in casting Leonardo DiCaprio as former F.B.I. chief J Edgar Hoover.

Film biopics are wonderful showcases for actors. Recreating colourful characters from history also brings its rewards in the shape of golden awards.

Forrest Whittaker as Idi Amin, Sean Penn as Harvey Milk and Colin Firth as King George VI have all won Oscars in recent years for real life roles. So, when Leonardo DiCaprio was cast in this film, he would surely have been dreaming of Oscar night. Well, dream on Leo!

Director Clint Eastwood's J. Edgar is a sprawling epic spanning seven decades and all the major moments of the American 20th Century; from the Great Depression to the assassination of JFK, from World War II to Watergate.

Hoover was an enfant terrible, who rose swiftly through the ranks of the US state department to become the fearsome director of the newly formed Federal Bureau of Investigation.

In a 50-year career, this highly controversial figure was regarded as the second most powerful man in America. And long before tabloid journalists had thought about bugging the good the bad and the ugly, Hoover kept secret files on everyone, including the six Presidents he served.

J. Edgar Hoover should be a wonderfully complex film character; in public, the mighty moral crusader fighting crime and disorder; in private a repressed homosexual with a fondness for wearing women's dresses.

But, I am afraid it is not so. Maybe this pivotal tricky role that spans a secretive lifetime needed two, three or maybe even four actors, certainly not the boyish charm of Leonardo DiCaprio alone.

Obviously DiCaprio succeeds in the early years as he still has the feline face of a youthful 14 year old. (He's actually 37 years old although he doesn't look a day older than he did in Titanic).

Needless to say, as J Edgar ages, DiCaprio flounders. It is simply preposterous for him to play a 77-year-old man! All the elderly prosthetic make-up in the world cannot disguise his adolescent cheekbones from beaming through.

In J. Edgar, it's not just young Leonardo who is miscast. Dame Judy Dench also takes a rare misstep as Hoover's dominating mother who, with her cut glass English accent, turns their awkward scenes into unfunny outtakes from Ab Fab.

DiCaprio's J. Edgar is beyond unconvincing, but surely this must have been apparent to the film's 81-year-old director Clint Eastwood? But something very strange has happened to the Hollywood veteran recently.

The noughties had been a glorious decade cementing his reputation as a cinema legend; winning a second Best Director Oscar for Million Dollar Baby and signing off from screen acting with an emotional farewell in Gran Torino.

However since then, Eastwood has made three very strange films, which sadly suggest that the master has lost his Midas movie touch. Firstly in 2009, Invictus, a less than captivating drama about the 1995 Rugby World Cup.

Then last year's weird clairvoyant drama Hereafter, in which Matt Damon was completely miscast as a reluctant Derek Acorah. And now the disappointing J. Edgar which limply plods and prods when it desperately needs to cut and thrust.

Truth may be stranger than fiction, but if fiction is to bring real life stories to the big screen, it has to be more convincing and compelling than this.

J. Edgar (Cert 15) is on general release from Friday, 20 January.

© UTV News
B. H. Martin
B. H. Martin

Brian Henry Martin is an accomplished documentary filmmaker and UTV's resident film critic, appearing regularly on UTV Live Tonight.

No matter what the film, there's a good chance Brian has seen it.

Twice.

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