J. Edgar (2011) – Blu-ray

Clint Eastwood’s tragically flawed, well-intentioned biopic J. Edgar is by all measure a thunderous mishap, scattered performances and epic storytelling, technical and tattered myth-making theatrics by a masterful filmmaker.  Audiences and reviews are often at odds with one another, every other write-up a give and take, praise and condemnation dished out in heaping details according to the aggregators.  The film seems at best half mast, middle of the road, whatever metaphor you’d like but when it comes down to it, after the box office receipts are tallied up it is, worst of all, under appreciated.  Nevertheless, it is a refreshing departure from the usual brooding of Eastwood’s wounded men films, stories about broken souls like Jimmy Marcum (Sean Penn) who do not change so much as they reflect the change that comes from the collateral damage of their lives (Mystic River).  It’s as though we find these characters at the end of a marathon race, out of breath and battered limbs, they know the world has caught up with them like Robert ‘Butch’ Haynes (Kevin Costner) who find that change is exactly what they thought it would be like (A Perfect World) but it’s often permanent beginnings and necessary endings.  Eastwood’s oeuvre suggests wounded confrontation leads to the greatest journeys of the heart and soul but in this film, for Hoover (Leonardo DiCaprio) he chooses instead to slow down for details, portray a character from his humblest pursuit of justice and civic duty to one of the most formidable public figures ever to hold and wield such a power outside the White House.  J. Edgar succeeds after all, proving Eastwood’s ability to survive even if the memory of this movie does not.

Above the Line: Practical movie reviews with Rory DeanIn films about real people and actual events, factual accounts of what happened that can be proved and all the things that cannot, there’s a delicate balance between art and homage, creative license and necessary fabrications.  In a film about secrets and the king of secrets, the earliest formulations of what would become the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) one might not think it odd at all to find such a dark and damaged telling.  A lot of reviews make mention of the purposeful cinematography pushing heavy contrasts forcing Hoover and others into half-light, gloomy interiors where misdeeds and evil doings are not only practiced but honed to perfection.  The fact that Eastwood and his cinematographer of choice Tom Stern go for mood lighting seems only fitting for a film about America’s most notorious introvert of power and prestige, though in all honesty they might have taken it a bit too literally at times.  Stern has collaborated with Eastwood on many films and has shot all of his films since 2002.  Given the historical context of the story, charting some 50 odd years or so, we should expect to get a little dirty in the process, stumble over heavy rooms of silence and impending doom, go over minutiae because it is there in those fine damaged places that history was made and souls were forged in the fire.  J. Edgar is after all, a film about flawed perfection and hopeful idealism even in the heart of so much corruption.

J. Edgar the film seems most at odds with J. Edgar the man, Eastwood’s investment in character missing important revelations, turning to history for answers to a life we never fully get to know over the course of the film.  It’s not for lack of details that we’re distanced but in the choices made by Eastwood and screenwriter Dustin Lance Black (Milk) and how they are carried out by DiCaprio.  The young actor seems impressed with Hoover’s locked box of forbidden desires and taboo relationships but his iron mask façade is impervious to the viewer; we simply cannot get to the man’s inner worlds for so much political genuflecting and government sacrosanct hypocrisy.  In his forlorn expressions and long take stares, in the little pauses of doubt and certain doom burning scene to scene, it’s like we’re looking through a frosted glass at the nearly imperceptible waiting for something to register that never fully materializes and for fans of the eclectic everyman actor they might find something there whereas the rest of us don’t have the luxury of such devices.  As a result Hoover the man is locked inside DiCaprio the actor and Eastwood can’t get through the waxen difference between subtlety and somnolence, revealing what might make for an interesting article: The aging Eastwood attempting to get younger DiCaprio to portray an old man who in truth is 5 years older than Hoover when he died.

Eastwood must take away from J. Edgar the burden of the film’s failure, realizing along with Warner Bros. the richly nuanced, fatally flawed life and times of Hoover didn’t register with audiences.  It was not for lack of an impressive cast of known and notables, Armie Hammer and Naomi Watts, Josh Lucas and Judi Dench, armed with a sizable budget and studio backing with his regular crew of merry filmmakers.  Perhaps it was the limited release in November, hardly the best time of year for a weighty biopic depicting an aged and worn out leading man in a film lost to history books and mysteriousness.  Other films pushed it to the side with extravagance (Immortals) and ridiculous antics (Jack and Jill), lost to art film dalliance (Melancholia) and sentimental awards bait (The Descendants).  In an era when escapist cinema wins the eager to forget, in the now of so much political corruption and unprecedented atrocities, there might not ever be a good time for films like this or maybe we need them more than we’d like to admit.  J. Edgar will appeal to the stalwart traditionalists, cinephiles and aficionados of Eastwood and DiCaprio, it will also distance many and prove to the few the magic of movies to take us out of the places we carve for ourselves in everyday struggles to realize our mistakes and own them so that we might not relive them if at all.

To Blu-ray or not To Blu-ray:

There are many places where you can find all the information you’ll need, or ever want to know about the technical aspects of the transfer, the contrast ratios and picture clarity color levels, crushed blacks and inky washes of primary and secondary patterns.  The same can be said for the audio, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround gives the home theater a spacial experience, a lush atmosphere limited only by your equipment and ear for specificity.  Many a reviews go into such matters with the delicacy of a bull stampede, knowing not what they say but for to grab indiscriminately from other sites and sources.  I’ll leave such things alone except to say the movie looks and sounds as it should for an often subdued, meticulous story with aging characters sometimes prone to silence, overwhelmed by the cacophonous weight of thoughts and indecision.  The bonus material comes by way of “The Most Powerful Man in the World”, a featurette with cast and crew gathered for an overview of the film, characters and history.  For those looking for a detailed accounting will be disappointed, though there is plenty of material online and elsewhere for the taking.  It’s hard to know where to put this film in terms of Blu-ray necessity versus DVD practicality.  Like all Blu-ray films, and most Warner Bros. releases, J. Edgar is a beautifully realized Blu-ray for you to decide at the end.


Warner Home Video, a division of Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Inc., invited me to join their exclusive Blu-ray Elite Movie Review Program and they sent me a complimentary copy of this movie for the purpose of review with special attention on the “Blu-ray Experience”.  I received this video for free, but that does not sway this review or the reviews of other films that will follow.

About rorydean

Rory Dean is a multi-medium artist, writer and new media strategist with a background as a creative consultant and technology liaison in the San Francisco Bay Area. His broad experiences and specialties include print-to-web publicity, promotions and design marketing using traditional and social media networks. As a motion pictures and television professional, his short films, productions and commercials have screened to domestic and international audiences. His connections to a diverse client base include artists, entertainers, corporations, non-profits and everyday people.. Dean is co-owner and founder of Dissave Pictures, a boutique production company focusing on audio, video, photography and multi-media designs. Dean's personal and professional background includes dreaming and avid notebook journaling, creative and copy writing, promotions and marketing, audio/video production, photography, videography, editing, web design and new media. He’s also a fan of collaboration and knows when to turn the reigns over, offer feedback, lead the team and step aside. His portfolio includes print, online, film, video, photography, graphic design and promotions. He’ll show you. He has a book and everything. "When not juggling various online worlds, I do a pretty good mime – but that’s another story."
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6 Responses to J. Edgar (2011) – Blu-ray

  1. Sam Fragoso says:

    It’s not that contemporary film audiences don’t respond to the life of J. Edgar Hoover, it’s that for a man who was so entirely controversial and unique, J. Edgar (the film) is bland, conventional, and unfocused (almost at times afraid to tap into Edgar’s psyche).

    Glad at least someone appreciates the film, I couldn’t get past many of its downfalls. And the makeup … some of the worst I’ve seen in a studio financed film in quite some time.

    By the way, when you call Eastwood a master filmmaker I become uncertain. Your writing is strong and the rhetoric is persuasive, but I don’t find myself proclaiming the wonders of Eastwood quite yet.

    Great site Rory. There’re plenty out there, but yours is filled with quality.

    • rorydean says:

      Hey, thanks – Oh I agree completely, Eastwood ham-fisted this one. You’re entirely right that he comes across as tentative, overly cautious or just unsure of the material. I wonder how much his age played a part in it all, you know, an old man trying to get a young man (DiCaprio) to be an old man? I can’t help but think of this in boxing terms, like Eastwood makes all the right moves at first but he’s dropping his right, he’s coveting a broke nose or a tiny tear above his eye that’s about to turn into a gusher.

      I must admit the review is definitely not one of my strongest and I had wanted to dig even deeper because I think what Eastwood was going for, primarily, was subtlety and nuance (though I do hate those terms for how they get thrown around, like best film of the year, not since yadda-yadda have we seen a film like this – surface they skitter). Eastwood relies on the audience to get in the room with the characters, feel the awkward silences and stinky breath of innuendo, you know how people always have that sweaty mouth smell when they’re dealing underhanded, pulling cards from the bottom in conversations and eye-hand-lie coordination. Remember that scene with Hoover and Kennedy, the way Kennedy was talking down his nose at Hoover until he realized the old man had him by the short hairs and he started to sweat and get all thick-tongued, knowing he was dealing with a man raised on owning people and organizations. I mean hell, he made the FBI what it was and maybe what it still is today, but I’m no historian or politico.

      That being said, welcome and cheers. Looking forward to reading you around.

  2. Nostra says:

    I was very disappointed by this movie. It just didn’t pull me into the movie enough to care about the character and it felt unfocused (like Sam mentioned).

    • rorydean says:

      I think that’s the general consensus, that and the makeup, and the lost opportunity to get at the guts of this quirky dude. I think I went in with a bias of sorts, with Eastwood that is, still trying to get over my lack of enthusiasm with DiCaprio. I truthfully haven’t been that impressed with him since What’s Eating Gilbert Grape..then again This Boy’s Life predates Grape as revealed a lot of his early brilliance, and I liked The Basketball Diaries too. It just feels like he’s delivering on the same character wearing different suits and hats, that damnable ‘golly-gee-ho-is-me’ thing he does. But yes, at the end of the day J. Edgar lacks the drive to keep you vested and once there it’s as though aging Eastwood meets up with young Eastwood, they have words, they disagree, and old Eastwood pulls a hole card and keeps on keeping on. Thanks for the visit.

      • Nostra says:

        The thing is that I have the feeling with Eastwood films that they are hit or miss. I had the same movie with this movie as I had with Flags of our Fathers. It just missed heart. It was shot well (didn’t really mind the makeup), but the story just wasn’t clear enough to me.

        Don’t have any issues with DiCaprio…

  3. Pingback: Warner Bros. Blu-ray Elite Team Member Wrap Up | Above the Line

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