Eastwood’s “J. Edgar” was one of the better examples of “This had Oscar buzz” filmmaking in recent memory. It was a major studio release from a prestigious, prolific, and legitimately legendary director. “J. Edgar” was written by Dustin Lance Black, who won an Academy Award in 2009 for “Milk.” The film starred a three-time Oscar nominee (as of 2011) playing the title role in a historical biopic. Additionally, it featured a lot of old-age makeup. It also positioned itself as a minor exposé, openly discussing Hoover’s sexuality as well as his longtime live-in boyfriend, Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer).
The early parts of the film depict Hoover as he was seen in major Hollywood pictures of the 1950s, as a steely hero whose rule over the FBI led to dramatic arrests and dismantling of large criminal enterprises. It wasn’t until the second half of the film that Hoover’s many, many malfeasances would be revealed, and the tone of the film shifted. In a scene right at the end, when the two lead characters are old men, Tolson confronts his boyfriend about his many crimes, reminding him not to believe “the myth of J. Edgar Hoover.” It seems Hoover was unable to hear that.
Despite its pedigree and its subject matter, “J. Edgar” received no Oscar nominations, and received fewer accolades than one might have anticipated. It likely didn’t help that Eastwood employed his typical dreamy tone and languid pacing to the film, making it dull and colorless. “J. Edgar” currently holds a 43% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. (Also, the old-age makeup was laughably bad, with DiCaprio and Hammer sometimes looking no better than the title characters from Harmony Korine’s “Trash Humpers.”)