CLINT EASTWOOD starred in two movies with an orangutan called Clyde. J. Edgar Hoover apparently spent the bulk of his life in love with a man named Clyde, who also happened to be an associate director at the FBI. I don't have a punchline for this. I just think it's a funny coincidence.
Okay, maybe not that funny—but J. Edgar, Eastwood's biopic of the legendary FBI director, is so self-consciously serious that you have to take levity wherever you find it. Written by Oscar-winner Dustin Lance Black (Milk), J. Edgar tells Hoover's life backwards and forwards, building a narrative around the lawman dictating his memoir. Leonardo DiCaprio plays Hoover from age 19 to his death at 77. It's a far cry from Leo's teenage heartthrob days: He spends half the movie in senior-citizen makeup that makes him look like Philip Seymour Hoffman. Or Jiminy Glick. It's actually not a terrible old-man mask, but it's hard to forget whose face is underneath.
DiCaprio otherwise sells the role with vigor, creating a vulnerable interpretation of a seemingly invulnerable man. Eastwood jumps around on the historical timeline, mimicking the tone of the earnest "crime doesn't pay" movies that Hoover heartily endorsed back in the day while undercutting it with whispered gossip. The G-man's more scandalous secrets are portrayed with sensitivity, albeit leaning heavily toward melodrama. It's all beautifully shot and expertly performed, but also in need of a good trim: It took Hoover two years to arrest a suspect for kidnapping the Lindbergh baby, and at times, J. Edgar feels equally as drawn out.
Being overlong and self-important means J. Edgar has a lot in common with the awards Eastwood is angling for. Like its subject, J. Edgar's biggest failing is how concerned it is with its own infamy. Clyde the orangutan would have never stood for such monkeyshines.