Clint Eastwood’s biopic is lovingly photographed. Washington, D.C., and other venues, from the teens through the 1970s, are regal, warm and classic. Unfortunately, Eastwood has populated his pretty film with a dull collection of historical figures, none of whom have much to offer. Eastwood also mostly punts on the nature of Hoover, and as played by Leonardo DiCaprio, the character is little more than a one-note old windbag, constantly going on and on about the same thing – the enemy within. Eastwood’s vehicle for Hoover’s reminisces – Hoover is dictating his memoirs to an ever-changing number of aides- does not help. As one is replaced, you can almost hear the jettisoned aide saying, “Thank God! What a snooze!” Oliver Stone’s Nixon gave us a ridiculously lustful and evil Hoover, played by Bob Hoskins, but at least he wasn’t tedious.
Naomi Watts is wholly wasted as Hoover’s long loyal secretary. Armie Hammer, as Hoover’s long loyal number 2 Clyde Tolson, does a poor version of a young Brendan Fraser (Hammer was last seen in The Social Network playing the Winkelvosses). Judi Dench’s turn as Hoover’s overdoting mother is predictable. Josh Lucas’s take on Charles Lindbergh is foggy. In fact, the only decent performance is a brief appearance by Jeffrey Donovan as a trumped Bobby Kennedy. Donovan thankfully avoids the standard “Haaaaaaaaahvaaaaaads” and “Baaaaaaahstons” endemic to the role.
Eastwood portrays Hoover as a repressed homosexual, no question. Which makes Mom upset and Tolson bitter. And Hoover seems most bothered by Martin Luther King because he overheard King having sex on a wiretap. Not much of a motivation. Eastwood even gives in to the dubious cross dressing story, but ennobles it because Hoover gets gussied up in Mom’s clothes after she dies. Another punt.
Another problem. DiCaprio’s makeup as an older Hoover is very good. Hammer and Watts, however, look ridiculous, very similar to the characters in “Star Trek” when they age decades in hours.
“I love you, Edgar.”
Dustin Lance Black’s (Milk) script ends in treacle and nonsense. Out out of nowhere, Hoover turns moralistic, the man who would stop . . . Nixon! This prefaces a melodramatic conversation between an old Hoover and Tolson that is straight up “One Life to Live.” When Tolson, doddering in his ridiculous makeup, finds the dead Hoover, it comes close to bringing laughter.
At one point, DiCaprio asks Watts, “Did I kill everything I love?”
Oh if she’d said, “No Edgar. That was Michael Corleone. You just bored them to death.”