Full marks to DiCaprio. He's done a fine job playing the famous FBI chief. He registers just the right amount of determination, arrogance, confidence and paranoia in bringing the character to life. And he convincingly ages, too
The narrative begins with him in his later years in the early '60s, telling his story for posterity and then cuts back and forth to his early years, his formative education in rooting out communist rabble rousers and ushering in new investigative methods (the centralising of all finger printing evidence for example).
It also covers his dealings with his protective mother (Dench) and his association with his close confidant and number two, Clyde Tolson (Hammer). But the decadent trappings associated with Hoover – his crossdressing say or the purported homosexual relationship he had with Tolson – are only lightly skated upon. The Lindbergh kidnapping case takes up a fair amount of screen time, but his scheming and manipulative ways in illegally taping VIPs phone conversations gets an airing too.
DiCaprio's old age makeup isn't overdone and the actor is first rate in embodying the embittered old man, his movements plausibly suggesting limbs that are no longer agile and irascibility as his predominant disposition. Unfortunately Hammer, good as the louche sophisticate who doesn't wish to get his hands dirty, is completely let down by his old age makeup. It's not remotely believable. It is, in fact, laughable and detracts from what little drama director Eastwood is able to conjure.
The Oscar winner here has fashioned a dry and formal exercise that results in scant excitement. It's well written but talky, never drawing one in enough to be fully involved in the proceedings. The atmospheric cinematography doesn't help either. It looks like a '40s film noir at times. The colour has been washed out and the characters are seen in shadowy half light, again elevating the feeling of keeping one at a distance. Kudos to DiCaprio though. He goes all out to create a credible portrait and succeeds manfully, but the movie surrounding him disappoints. It should punch you in the gut but ends up merely eliciting a shrug. It's watchable enough but nowhere near the incisive, provocative or fascinating affair it could or should be.
EXTRAS ★ Just the featurette J Edgar: The Most Powerful Man in the World (18:10).