Clint Eastwood's new biopic J. Edgar, which stars Leonardo DiCaprio as FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, premiered at AFI Fest in Los Angeles last night. A few full reviews and other responses have already arrived online, and while there is divisive opinion floating about, the general consensus is that the movie is so-so but both Leo and costar Armie Hammer are great and should each receive an Oscar nomination. And speaking of those two, there is a likeminded appreciation for the depiction of their characters' relationship (Hammer plays FBI Associate Director Clyde Tolson, Hoover's right-hand man and rumored lover), mostly in the much-better second half of the film.
What specifically are critics and others saying about the film? Here's The Conversation heard around the blogosphere and Twitter:
My gut feeling was that I had just seen a very good film -- but not one that is a slam-dunk for a best picture nomination or anything else (though I would be pretty surprised if, at the very least, DiCaprio doesn't make it into the best actor field and the film's showy makeup work isn't recognized). - Scott Feinberg, The Race
Leonardo DiCaprio is exceptional in the title role, digging into an incredibly complex character, committing from frame one to the embodiment and maintaining that course without losing focus. It's at times a broad portrayal of a broad persona, but I thought the actor found ways to dial it down and make the internal machinations of the man count. And I think it could very well carry him to that elusive first Oscar win. - Kristopher Tapley, In Contention
A tour-de-force performance as J. Edgar Hoover, young and old. [...] DiCaprio could move into the lead in the Best Actor category, and Armie Hammer, Judi Dench and Naomi Watts could be in the running for supporting nominations too. It may not be best picture, although some categories could go with a period film from the respected and popular Eastwood, from art direction and cinematography to makeup. Oscar-winning Milk screenwriter Dustin Lance Black enters some speculative territory, here; depending on critical reaction, he could be rewarded with a script nod. - Anne Thompson, Thompson on Hollywood
Despite its flaws, J. Edgar still manages to be one of my favorite movies of the year. [...] Leo DiCaprio is brilliant as J. Edgar Hoover. I was blown away by his performance. He managed to get every Hoover nuance, got the accent down, and transformed from a young Hoover to the old Hoover effortlessly. No other actor could have done it better. DiCaprio took a very hard, unlikable character and somehow made me care about him. I mean, Hoover is hardly an admirable guy, and at times he’s a little pathetic, but Leo’s performance gave Hoover a heart. God, he was just so good. Without a doubt, Leo DiCaprio will get an Oscar nod for this portrayal. (Actually, I think this may actually end up being Leo’s year to win!) - Gabrielle Adelle, The Young Folks
I doubt he’d win it. He surely will be nominated as this movie panders to the Oscar crowd. His performance was great and Oscars have been given out to weak movies before, but I just don’t see it. DiCaprio played the role extremely well highlighting Hoover’s eccentricities while showing how the man thought completely different from the rest of us. The best scenes, in my opinion, were the gay banter between himself and Clyde especially when their emotions erupted in the scene the audience could see coming from the fist time they met. - Matthew Fong, Advance Screenings
The truth about the domestic relationship is probably forever unknowable, but the way the homoerotic undertones and impulses are handled is one of the best things about the film; the emotional dynamics, given all the social and political factors at play, feel entirely credible, and the DiCaprio and Hammer excel during the exchanges of innuendo, covert desire, recriminations and mutual understanding. - Todd McCarthy, The Hollywood Reporter
True to Eastwood's understated nature, "J. Edgar" offers the "tasteful" treatment of such potentially salacious subject matter, though a more outre Oliver Stone-like approach might have made for a livelier film. With the exception of a few profanities (enough to land the pic an audience-limiting R rating) and a lone homoerotic wrestling scene so tame that Ken Russell's "Women in Love" feels like an X by comparison, the film could pass for something Warners would have released in an earlier era -- earlier even than many of the events depicted onscreen, as suggested by Tom Stern's cinematography, desaturated nearly to black-and-white. - Peter Debruge, Variety
In the second hour, Eastwood does what he does so well which is to focus on the characters. The scenes stretch longer and there are some exceptional moments [...] Indeed, as always, when Eastwood turns his compassionate eye onto the frailties and emotions of his characters, the film flies and reminds us why he remains one of the world’s most vital filmmakers. It’s hard not to tear up when Tolson sobs over Hoover’s body, but Eastwood isn’t making us cry about Hoover in particular. Ever the humanist, he is merely showing one man crying for the loss of his lifelong love. - Mike Goodridge, Screen Daily
At a moment when Hollywood is flailing about with tired remakes, Clint Eastwood, one of its more senior filmmakers, seems more determined than ever to stake new ground. His gripping new film “J. Edgar” is the polar opposite of contemporary studio product—a searing biopic about a megalomaniacal right-wing ideologue. - Peter Bart, Variety
The most powerful man in the world. The most boring biopic in history. [...] There are far too many moments that read as "Look at me, I'm acting!" which is the last thing you want an audience to think. [...] For as much time as these men spend together on screen, you'd think our investment in their relationship would be significant. And yet once these characters reach their twilight years, you can't help but feel we're watching a college theatre production of Waiting for Godot with twenty-somethings in heavy elderly makeup "acting" like senior citizens. - Michael Stailey, DVD Verdict
It mostly feels like a fantasy. [..] It's about as "true" as a film or mini-series about Queen Elizabeth I set in the 16th Century. Moreover, the film tiptoes around so many of his more nefarious deeds (the '50s and McCarthy are barely mentioned) that the picture slowly transforms into a portrait meant to justify Hoover's controversial life. It's troubling to realize some audiences who don't know that much about Hoover's history before seeing the film, will take a good chunk of it as fact. That's not the sort of film you'd expect from Clint Eastwood, is it? Well, luckily for the industry icon, Leonardo DiCaprio almost completely saves the day. - Gregory Ellwood, HitFix
@colliderfrosty: Leo is definitely getting a nomination.
@FyodorFish: Leo will get nominated, but will lose, probably to Clooney. Definitely won't win, though. Oscar-bait role, sure. Weak, sluggish film. He gets points for the old-age makeup, playing a historical character, true, but the performance lacks depth and heft.
@DavidPoland: Oy Edgar. No one is winning an Oscar. Some that were assumed nominated could be left out by all but the Globes. Painfully simplistic
@JackGi: Clint Eastwood was not the right director for J. Edgar. [Leo will] be lucky if he gets nominated. It's such an unsubtle performance. His accent slipped a whole lot, too. Just wish Eastwood trusted him more. There were scenes where he had him spelling things out, when he's clearly capable of saying those things internally.
@KevinBuckalew: Aside from a few good scenes, J. Edgar is a mess. No real personality. Sloppy storytelling, haphazard directing, and laughable performances. Wish I liked it more. It's just too dryly historical and uninvolving. Interesting ideas in it but they get glossed over. Mostly just disappointing, but parts are bad-bad. A few scenes work, Hammer is great. But it's uninvolving & messy.
@pekochan: J.Edgar - not so good. Inbetween moments of unintentional camp & melodrama, pretty ho-hum. Leo pulls out all the stops but just not enough.
@chrisvognar: Overall very impressed by J. Edgar. Eastwood is a craftsmen who generally rises to the occasion. Bigger the stakes, better the film.
@williambgoss: J. Edgar: like Hereafter, enjoyed more than expected. Leo portrays Hoover as insecure bulldog, with a touch of Eisenberg-as-Zuckerberg remove.
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