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Clint Eastwood
Leonardo DiCaprio, Naomi Watts, Armie Hammer, Josh Hamilton, Geoff Pierson, Judi Dench, Cheryl Lawson, Gunner Wright, David A. Cooper, Ed Westwick
Writing Credits:
Dustin Lance Black

The Most Powerful Man in the World.

Leonardo DiCaprio 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 directs an all-star cast including Naomi Watts, Armie Hammer and Oscar Winner Judi Dench as Hoover’s overprotective mother.

Box Office:
$35 million.
Opening Weekend
$11.217 million on 1910 screens.
Domestic Gross
$37.293 million.

Rated R

Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 137 min.
Price: $35.99
Release Date: 2/21/2012

• “J. Edgar: The Most Powerful Man in the World” Featurette
• Bonus DVD/Digital Copy


Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


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J. Edgar [Blu-Ray] (2011)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (Febraury 20, 2012)

With Clint Eastwood behind the camera, Leonardo DiCaprio in front of the lens, and an important subject to discuss, 2011’s J. Edgar looked primed for big things – critically, at least. Though the film’s commercial possibilities seemed limited, it came across like the kind of movie that would earn much consideration at Oscar time.

However, J. Edgar ended up as a dud in all possible ways. With a US gross of $37 million, it made no dent at the box office, and reviews tended to be negative. Oscar totally snubbed the film as well, as it managed not a single nomination.

All the negativity kept me from a theatrical screening of the film, but I was curious to appraise it on Blu-ray. The story opens in the 1960s with elderly FBI head J. Edgar Hoover (DiCaprio). Interested in the preservation of his legacy, he tells his tale – and that of the growth/rise of the FBI – to Agent Smith (Ed Westwick).

This takes us back to 1919, where we see a young Hoover’s reaction to a Communist terrorist plot and how this sparks his interest in the development of better crime-investigation techniques. Hoover gets a promotion to take charge of the search for the Bolsheviks and he leaps at this, all while his mother (Judi Dench) manipulates him – and he also attempts to woo new secretary Helen Gandy (Naomi Watts). The romance flops, but Gandy becomes Hoover’s longtime personal secretary.

From there we follow Hoover’s life and career. We see him become Director of the Bureau of Investigation and his influence on crime-fighting from there. We trace his position of prominence through various major public topics like the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby and in the public eye. We also see various personal subjects, with a particular focus on his relationship with close associate Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer).

Going into Edgar, I knew of the various criticisms aimed at it, and I found it hard not to agree with many. In particular, Eastwood’s choice to frame virtually the entire film in shadows seems perplexing. Perhaps this is a metaphor for the hidden nature of the public figure or something like that, but it doesn’t play like a logical visual choice. Instead, it feels like Clint forgot to pay the light bill; even daylight shots look like they’re in the middle of an eclipse. The darkness creates an unnecessary distraction that seems more likely to take the viewer out of the story.

In addition, many criticized the flick’s old age makeup, and that’s a largely justified complaint. Watts’ makeup actually looks pretty good, while DiCaprio’s is mediocre and Hammer’s is downright awful. Hammer looks like he’s been dipped in plastic, and the poor quality of the work acts as another reason to mentally disconnect from the tale; it’s just hard to take the 1960s scenes seriously when we have to look at such unconvincing makeup.

On the other hand, I’ve heard a lot of criticisms about the movie’s chronology, as many appear to think its frequent era changes become a distraction. I disagree, as I feel they flow fairly smoothly. The jumps from young Hoover to old prevent the flick from becoming a straight biographical documentation of events; they don’t always succeed, but they add some perspective on Hoover’s life and make the narrative more interesting.

Despite that, Edgar still tends to often feel like a basic “greatest hits” reel. It attempts to throw curveballs along the way – especially since we usually get Hoover’s self-serving side of the story and necessarily must question his veracity – but the tale still usually acts as a “this happened, and then this happened” depiction. That’s not a bad thing, per se, and the movie actually works best when it takes this standard approach. But it does make the flick feel conventional.

Which might be a good thing, for when Edgar threatens to break out of the usual mold, it goes downhill. The scenes with younger Hoover easily fare the best. We get the most interesting material in those, as we view his rise to power and early work with the Bureau, and we also find the best-realized writing. The 1960s sequences try too hard to be Deep ‘n’ Meaningful, as they feature Hoover’s look back at his life and legacy. While they attempt insight, they instead come across as meandering and borderline pointless. We’re better off with the basics of the younger Hoover.

The performances also work better when we stay farther in the past. That’s partly due to the makeup, but it’s also because DiCaprio just can’t pull off the older Hoover well. Even buried in the makeup, he still looks boyish, and he’s not especially believable. He doesn’t do much to alter the character to fit his age, so the older Hoover sequences feel artificial.

DiCaprio gives a stronger performance as the younger Hoover, though even those scenes have some age-related problems; 36 at the time of shooting, DiCaprio looked much too old for the 20-something version of Hoover.

But he does his best to pull off the character’s personality at that stage, and he does quite well. Even with the disconnect between DiCaprio’s 36-year-old face and Hoover’s younger age, the actor transmits a good feeling of youth and awkwardness. He’s at his best with the early twenties Hoover, in fact, but he still does nicely with the part as Edgar ages through his thirties; it’s only the elderly Hoover that flops.

As expected, Edgar generated some controversy when it dealt with Hoover’s alleged homosexuality. This doesn’t mean the flick takes much of a stand, though; it never makes a real judgment in either direction, though I’d say it really leans toward the “Hoover was gay” camp. It certainly paints Tolson as homosexual, and it uses that stance as an implication of Hoover’s attitudes.

This seems like a cop-out. Admittedly, the movie came with a no-win situation; no matter what position it took, it’d offend someone. That said, I think it ends up with the worst of all worlds, as its “maybe he was, maybe he wasn’t” appear more likely to annoy everyone. Perhaps it would’ve been better to ignore the issue altogether, but then Eastwood would’ve been accused of whitewashing, so that probably wouldn’t have worked, either.

Controversies aside, J. Edgar ends up as a watchable but lackluster movie. I do think it’s better than its negative reviews opine, but I can’t make a strong argument for it as a maligned classic. It’s an erratic but sporadically effective biography.

The Blu-ray Grades: Picture A-/ Audio B/ Bonus D+

J. Edgar appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.40:1 on this Blu-Ray Disc. This turned into a well-rendered presentation.

At all times, sharpness excelled. With all its dark scenes, the film could’ve become a murky, fuzzy mess, but instead, it boasted strong clarity and delineation at all times. I noticed no signs of jagged edges or shimmering, and edge haloes failed to appear. Source flaws also remained absent across this clean presentation.

Edgar used a limited palette; much of the time, it was essentially a monochromatic movie because the colors were so muted and they were used so infrequently. What hues I saw looked clear and accurate without any signs of bleeding or noise. Due to the color scheme and the overall dim lighting of the movie, it’s important that Edgar feature strong black levels, and the disc didn’t disappoint. Dark tones looked deep and rich, and contrast was solid.

Shadow detail seemed clear and defined; low-light situations came across as appropriately heavy but without excessive thickness. That was especially significant given the fact that Eastwood bathed so much of the film in shadows; a lesser transfer would’ve made this virtually unwatchable, but all the dark sequences showed good delineation. I felt pleased with this fine presentation.

Though not as impressed, I was happy with the DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack of Edgar, which provided a solid soundfield throughout the film. The forward environment appeared reasonably broad and engaging. Discrete audio filled the front three speakers with a good deal of appropriate activity, all of which brought the movie to life effectively.

The surrounds kicked in support information which bolstered the overall impression and made the audio involving and realistic. Outside of an explosion and a couple of quick gunfire sequences, Edgar lacked any truly “showy” moments, but the overall ambiance seemed solid.

Audio quality also was quite good. Speech was crisp and natural with no signs of edginess or problems related to intelligibility. Music seemed bright and clear and displayed strong dynamics. Effects sounded clean and packed a solid punch when necessary; the louder segments of Edgar were powerful without any signs of distortion. All in all, the track provided a reasonably well-rounded sonic image that suited the movie.

Only minor extras appear here. A featurette called J. Edgar: The Most Powerful Man in the World runs 18 minutes, 10 seconds and includes comments from screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, FBI technical advisor Scott Nelson, producers Robert Lorenz and Brian Grazer, director Clint Eastwood, executive producer Erica Huggins, Library of Congress research librarian Sheridan Harvey, and actors Leonardo DiCaprio, Naomi Watts, Armie Hammer, and Lea Coco.

“World” looks at story and characters as well as issues related to the real-life personalities. This one tends to be a bit fluffy and lacks much detail, but it’s more interesting than the average promotional piece, especially since we get some good footage from the set and archival pieces.

A second platter provides both a digital copy of Edgar for use on computers on digital portable gadgets as well as a DVD copy of the film. This delivers a barebones package, so don’t expect any extras.

With a strong cast and crew behind it – and a potentially fascinating subject - J. Edgar may go down as the big critical disappointment of 2011. While I don’t think it’s a bad film, I also can’t claim it’s particularly good; it keeps the viewer moderately involved but lacks much heft. The Blu-ray provides excellent visuals and solid sound but only minor supplements. This one’s probably worth a rental but doesn’t seem likely to merit more than that.

Viewer Film Ratings: 2 Stars Number of Votes: 2
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