J. Edgar

Laurel and Hardy. Chaste. - ★★½

There’s a beautiful fleeting moment midway through J. Edgar where Leonardo Di Caprio’s stern bureau man finally relaxes and lets go. Leo’s Hoover is sitting on a couch in a hotel room relaxing with long-time confidant and colleague Clyde, played by The Social Network‘s Armie Hammer – “I’m 6’5″, 220 lbs. and there are two of me!”. Hoover and Clyde are alone and he finally sees fit to let his guard down and embrace the repressed homosexuality he’s fought for years. It’s a silly moment where he plays with some flowers and cracks a few smiles. The moment lasts about ten seconds before normal order is resumed and things get serious again. And sadly it’s a rare moment of humour and lightness in Clint Eastwood’s latest directorial effort.

We know very little about J. Edgar Hoover. In terms of his private life, it’s pretty much common knowledge that he was a mummy’s boy who liked wearing dresses who chose to live a closeted homosexual life for the duration of his life. This assumed “chastity” was all in the name of his career. But outside of this it’s hard to get a handle on the man.

But you’ll find there are a lot less questions over his professional life. Between 1924 and 1972 Hoover was internationally renowned as the second most powerful man in America in his role as head of the Bureau of Investigation, which evolved into what we know as the F.B.I. He was a voice in the ear of eight different US presidents and his infamous “secret files” meant none of them could do anything to move him on before his death.

OK, so an unarguable statement – Leonardo Di Caprio is the biggest star in Hollywood. I’ve mentioned before about how there aren’t many actors, male or female, who manage to find that balance between box-office results and artistic credibility. Christian Bale and Leonardo Di Caprio are about the closest we get these days. Leo doesn’t show up in capers or comedies and only tackles work deemed worthwhile and important. But the only real smile I can remember from J. Edgar was that moment on the couch I mentioned in the opening paragraph. The rest of the time it’s more of that cold icy stare that we saw in Inception, Shutter Island, and Revolutionary Road. The last time I remember him letting himself run free was in Catch Me If You Can, which was nine years ago. He does have Baz Luhrmann’s Great Gatsby adaptation and Tarantino’s Django Unchained lined up for next year so here’s hoping he’ll loosen up and surprise us with some laughs and abandon.

Clyde Tolson and J. Edgar Hoover. The less attractive versions.

Opposite DiCaprio is Arnie Hammer who is brilliant as Clyde Tolson, the F.B.I.’s Associate Director. We may know ever less about him than we do Hoover, but the fact is he was the man who inherited Hoover’s estate, received the U.S. flag from his coffin and went on to be buried a few yards from Hoover in the Congressional cemetery. So I guess we are asked to draw our own conclusions. The early days of their friendship are well handled by screen-writer Dustin Lance Black (Milk) but the jumping back and forth from past to present day through the age-old device of “let’s-write-my-memoir-and-crossfade-back-to-days-gone-by” means it’s hard to really get invested in the evolution of their (non)relationship. And I won’t even mention the make-up which missed the mark by about a quarter-century.

I’ve never had a problem with Clint Eastwood doing the music for his own films, but here you wonder whether a little more emotion and gravitas could have been added if he’d ditched the piano and hired a Thomas Newman or Howard Shore to score the film. The film is also really washed out and drained of any colour, which worked well for Changeling and the Iwo Jima/Flags of our Fathers films, but Clint’s gotta realise the past doesn’t have to be so desaturated!

Despite all the flaws there’s still plenty to be cheery about. Judi Dench as Mrs. Hoover is great as always and getting an insight into specific cases that were integral to the formation of the F.B.I. – 30′s gangster wars, the Lindbergh kidnapping, John Dillinger – is great but there’s just too much in here to really get behind it all. I’m not advocating turning this into a sprawling four hour biopic, but a more structured and focused timeline would have served it well.

 Clint Eastwood  /   Dustin Lance Black  /  Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Armie Hammer, Naomi Watts, Judi Dench  /  137 min  /  Biography, Drama  /  Release: 11 November 2011 (US/Canada), 20 January 2011 (Irl/UK)

2012 – Through The Looking Glass

A look ahead to the big releases in the year ahead from Dublin-based film writer Barry Bracken who recently launched his own site at herearethedailies.com.

Barry has worked for state.ie and RTÉ and is the front-man with the pop group Bouts.

2012 - Through the Looking Glass

One thing’s for sure, 2012 will be dominated by The Dark Knight Rises. Christopher Nolan will finally finish his Batman trilogy and we, the critical community, the fans, the geeks will royally round on him for producing quite possibly the biggest blockbuster cock-up since Kevin Costner thought Waterworld was a good idea. Ok, so that turn of events is unlikely in the extreme. But just one request Chris – don’t make it as bum-achingly long this time. The Dark Knight had enough endings to show LOTR: The Return Of The King a thing or two. Sticking with the comic book theme and another superhero world should come to close this Summer (but probably won’t if Iron Man 3 and Thor 2 get the final go-ahead) as The Avengers splashes down. After teasing us for, oh, I don’t know how many Marvel Universe movies at this stage, Samuel L Jackson will take centre stage in one of his one. Only to find that, well, everybody else (ever) is in it as well. A positive orgy of superhero talent to take our eyes off what *red-blooded guy alert* Scarlett Johansson will be wearing.

J Edgar opens in Ireland and the UK late January and although advance word is poor I always find it interesting (if a only from a mainstream Hollywood perspective) to see what next “worthy” Oscar bait project Sunset Boulevard royalty throws at the plebs. Sometimes it works (Silence Of The Lambs) sometimes not (Dances With Wolves – sorry again Kevin). Anyway, Leo in front and Clint behind the camera (at eighty – EIGHTY years of age for god’s sake!) is enough for mild diversion at the very least. And it may still be better than the Total Recall remake – starring somebody called Colin Farrell and somebody else called Bokeem Woodbine (cool name though) and, lest we omit, the excellent, incomparable Bryan Cranston. It will undoubtedly be one of the hype movies of the year. Let’s hope they don’t muck up one of Arnie’s true lasting (positive) cinematic legacies. Ridley Scott’s Prometheus is another huge event movie this year. With a cast of stars as long as your arm (Charlize Theron, Michael Fassbender, Guy Pearce, Idris Elba – Stringer Bell yo! – and er, Patrick Wilson) this might be his best film since, well, Alien! Alright alright * hands up* I jest, Blade Runner then. Also starring Charlize Theron, Young Adult should be more than worth a look when it’s released this side of the pond in March. Diablo Cody (writer of Juno) scripted and Jason Reitman (Juno, Thank You For Smoking, Up In The Air) directs – a quality team. It bodes well.

They’re rebooting Spiderman again (again!). Maybe it’s not too late to unboot, but with a release date of July The Amazing Spiderman is coming at us whether we’ve short memories or not. Keep a watchful eye out for Alps, Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos’ follow-up to the bonkers Dogtooth. Spielberg’s Lincoln is due towards year’s end. Will it be his best effort since Munich? Or if we’re being really honest the brilliant (and getting better with age) Minority Report. Come on Stevie it’s been ten years! Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is also out in the Summer. Spielberg won’t be directing that. Joesph Gordon Levitt stars in Lincoln but keep an eye out for him also in Premium Rush – due August. An unremarkable action premise on paper, what make’s it more promising is the amount of talent it’s hung on – David Koepp (Jurassic Park, Panic Room) writes and directs and the excellent Michael Shannon (Take Shelter, Boardwalk Empire) co-stars. The Bourne Legacy with Jeremy Renner as our new, friendly, CIA super-soldier should be worth investigating. Series writer Tony Gilroy takes directorial duties this time round. And how can we not be expectant of the man who could reasonably be held responsible for accidentally, single-handedly revitalising Bond. Saving it from the clutches of a stale formula and an aging Brosnan. But I digress.

Moving into dodgy sequel land, Paranormal Activity 4, The Expendables 2 and Taken 2 will all arrive this year. And the will it / won’t it be any good dilemma that is Men In Black III will resurrect from it’s dormant slumber. Strange but true career sidestep of the year will be by director Jay Roach. Responsible for such socially conscious, hard hitting, politically aware potboliers as Austin Powers & Meet The Parents / Fockers he brings us Dogfight and Game Change – both highly political in their orientation. Dogfight is a comedy about two North Carolina politicians fighting for a seat in the House of Representatives. Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis star, but an intriguing supporting cast (John Lithgow, Brian Cox, Dan Aykroyd anyone?) bulk up the numbers. And although Game Change is a stateside HBO television production, it should, if possible, be well worth catching – especially with none other than Julianne Moore as Sarah Palin. And, to be fair, Roach has been chipping away at the political mould in made-for-tv land since 2008′s really quite good Recount.

To close, 2012 will also feature the bizarre spectacle of two of Hollywood’s most preposterous egos in a “see which Hollywood superstar glams up as the best rock-star” competition. We’ve Sean Penn in (the partly filmed in Ireland) This Must Be The Place and Tom Cruise in Rock Of Ages. Some serious alter-ego indulgence at play here. What is certain is both will be plainly ridiculous. Open to correction on that, but alas, we must wait and see. Happy watching folks!

What are your most anticipated releases for the year ahead?