On paper this looked a sure-fire winner. How could you go wrong with a biopic of one of the most influential Americans of the 20th century when you have Leonardo DiCaprio in the lead and Clint Eastwood behind the camera? Write the Oscar acceptance speeches and let's be done with it.
Sadly for all involved; it's not quite as simple as that. J. Edgar Hoover is certainly a suitable case for treatment when it comes to screen biopics. The man who established the FBI in its current, forensic form and stayed at its head for almost 50 years, Hoover was reviled and respected in equal measure. His power derived from the fact that he had the goods (or at least people believed he had the goods) on every important American figure, not least the six US presidents under which he served. (JFK was a particular target, as our favourite US President's life beyond the Oval Office wasn't always squeaky-clean). Recent reports have suggested that Hoover himself would have come under major scrutiny for his alleged homosexuality and predilection for cross-dressing.
It's quite a story, in other words, but Clint's movie doesn't quite deliver the goods. For one thing, given his penchant for snooping and love of the limelight (he made sure that those Cagney-style FBI movies painted him in a good light), Hoover was a pretty unlikable chap, so it's not that easy for an audience to empathise with him on his journey through life. For another thing, the more Hoover ages, the greater the level of prosthetic make-up that has to be applied to Leonardo DiCaprio and it's difficult to concentrate on the drama when you are distracted by so much latex. Worst of all, J. Edgar is dull. It's not easy to cram such a complex life into 137 minutes so there's no excuse for it to be ponderous.
On the positive side, DiCaprio does give a strong central performance - at times frail, at times troubled, at times powerful - and there are good turns from the always reliable Judi Dench and the underrated Naomi Watts (prosthetic make-up notwithstanding). But despite these positives, J. Edgar breaks the cardinal rule that applies to any screen biopic: Do Not Be Boring.