J. Edgar – Review

J. Edgar (2011) 

Directed by Clint Eastwood. Written by Dustin Lance Black. Cast: Leonardo DiCaprioJosh HamiltonGeoff PiersonNaomi WattsJudi DenchJeffrey DonovanDermot Mulroney

I am finding really hard to find something good to say about this latest dull dull dull film by Clint Eastwood. I am actually even beginning to think that it’s probably time for Clint to enjoy his retirement, instead of giving us every year a film which borders between the cheesy, the flat and most crucially the rhetorical propaganda! I am sorry to say this, because I love the guy as a person, but let’s face it, both Invictus  and (especially) Hereafter were real stinkers

As far as J. Edgar is concerned behind the thin patina of gloss, the actual true fascinating story and an impressive cast, there is otherwise very little to enjoy.

Eastwood directs it all almost by numbers, as if he wasn’t even there, without any visual flair, any care or attention for details, any subtlety, or  worse any real ideas or anything to say.

Every decision behind the making of this film seems to have been wrong one: the decision to break the film up, flashing backwards and forwards makes it too complicated to follow and keeps the audience emotionally detached for at least the whole first half. The decision to allow Eastwood to recycle his usual plain piano notes soundtrack, which sounds exactly the same as every other one of his films and actually here is used in the most cheesy possible way to its worse effect. The decision to have J Edgar Hoover telling the story of his life to a biographer (my God, can it all be a bit more obvious please!?), but most crucially, the decision to have Di Caprio & Co acting with (not very good) prosthetics for half of the film thus forcing the audience to get constantly distracted by the bad hair lines, the dodgy fake wrinkles and the rubbery feel on people’s faces. I must have spent half of the film looking at the make-up thinking “God, this is bad” and even when sometimes I though “mmm, this is a bit better…” I was always aware of it. Even when you look at the publicity stills from the movie (the picture above this review) you can see tell how fake the hairline is. In an age of seamless CGI (look at the ageing effects of Benjamin Button!!) I am surprise to see such shoddy  work (hopefully it’ll look alright on DVD, but on the big screen I saw this, digitally projected, it all looked incredibly ropey).

I am usually a huge fan of Di Caprio: I loved him since  “A Boy’s life” when he upstaged even Robert DeNiro (in a time where DeNiro was actually still good), he was absolutely amazing in “What’s Eating Gilberg Grape” (to this day one of my favourite films), I thought he was one of the most mesmerizing Romeo in  Baz Lurhman’s “Romeo + Juliet“, I even liked him in Titanic (in fact, I think, special effects aside, some of the success of that film was because of his ability to draw us in.. and to draw millions of little girls back to see the film over and over again). He was great in the Aviator, the Departed and he even managed to bypass the fact that he had a baby-face in both Catch me if you Can and Revolutionary Road, just because he was so good in both! But on “J.Edgar” Di Caprio is forced to spend half of the film covered in that damn thick prosthetics which prevents him to convey any real emotion to his character. I felt like I was always watching Di Caprio in a fat-suit as opposed to J.Edgar.

To be completely honest, it’s not all his fault. Eastwood ‘s direction jumps from scene to scene, sometimes quite randomly, trying to cover as much ground as possible from the undoubtedly intriguing real life. There are way too many characters, too many story lines, most of which are left hanging without a real sense of place and eventually the emotional focus of the film gets diluted and any understanding of his character gets lost.

There are some potentially very strong moments: for example the relationship between J.Edgar and his domineering mother (the always very watchable Judi Dench) and the sexual tension between Di Caprio and Armie Hammer, are both potentially very strong, however in the hands of Eastwood they all fall into schmaltzy and clichés as those cheesy piano notes tell us “a now, watch out… this is going to be emotional”. It’s all handled so badly that it even kills a potentially good performance like the one by Di Caprio.

The rest is just a hollow mess where characters come and go without leaving any real mark: we never really know why Naomi Watts‘s character decides to stick with J. Edgar right until the end, we never really get a grip on the procedures that made finger prints database possible, we never really get a sense of what could have happen if the real J.Edgar had been exposed and while all sorts of lawyers and politicians appear and disappear in a seemingly random succession we are getting more and more lost in irrelevant subplots.

It could have been a fascinating story: a closeted gay, the first director of FBI, a man who lived through presidents like Truman, Kennedy and Nixon. There could have been so much here and yet it’s all wasted in bad storytelling, staging and wrong choices at every turn.

I blame the direction, the script (surprisingly the same person who had penned the quite gentle and a lot more subtle Milk),but also the editing: obviously a lot has been cut out trying to condense 50 years into 137 minutes. But instead of loosing entire subplots and deciding to make it all more focused, somebody made a terrible decision to actually have it all in. The first 20/30 minutes are some of the most disjointed and messy I’ve seen in any film recently.

It would probably deceiver even less than a 5/10 rating, but some of central performances are quite good, despite everything else around them.

5/10

Hereafter – Review

HEREAFTER (2010)

Directed by Clint Eastwood. Starring Cécile De France, Thierry Neuvic, Jessica Griffiths,Frankie, McLaren, George McLaren

I just can’t believe this film has been getting some good reviews. If it hadn’t been directed by CLINT EASTWOOD I’m sure people would have looked at it in a different way, but it seems it’s become a sin to bad-mouth a Clint Eastwood‘ film. What’s the matter with people and Clint Eastwood?

Just because the guy is 80 we should forgive him films like these?

First of all let’s all admit that Clint’s recent work has been rather inconsistent, and then let’s try to see how with this film he’s really touched rock bottom.

On paper HEREAFTER could almost work. It is the story of 3 different people in 3 different countries having to deal with death in 3 completely different ways. In the first story, Matt Damon has psychic abilities and he’s able to communicate with the dead (or rather listen to them).

The second story is about a French woman, Cécile De France (probably known to the US audience from the latest “AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS“) who has survived a near-death experience and she’s now dealing with the post trauma.

And finally the third story is set in London and it’s about a young schoolboy who’s just lost his twin brother and he’s also trying to deal with the loss.

Unfortunately the film doesn’t really manage to go beyond these simple intriguing plot lines and what should have been an interesting story about loss, grief and death, told by an old aged man (who certainly must feel this subject very close to him, given his age) slowly (very slowly) becomes a heavy-handed gush of sentimentality, with a script riddled with a series of spoon-fed clichés.

People may argue that since Spielberg is the executive producer of this film, all this was meant to happen from the start. However , not only Spielberg had very little to do with the film itself, but also “subtlety” hasn’t been a word present in Eastwood’s dictionary either, especially in the last few years (Clint’s family in GRAN TORINO for example was so over the top and it almost felt like a parody). Hence the obviously gratuitous images like the one of the “lonely person” shown eating alone in the kitchen, or the poor boy you’re supposed to feel sorry for, or the business woman who’s not listening to his colleagues during a meeting at work, because she’s really concerned about more important stuff…

The whole film is a series of telegraphed sequences where you can tell exactly what’s going to happen miles before it actually does. Everything feels so formulaic, remote and non-engaging that after a while it all gets rather boring as the film unravels towards the most terrible and sentimental ending of all (with the added bonus of a musical surge in strings which feels like you’re watching “Airplane!” ), and yet all this sentimentality lacks of any emotional truth.

Yes, of course, some of it might be quite emotional, but it’s easy to make people cry when you’re dealing with a subject like death. The film is incredibly manipulative to the point of being almost offensive. The way we are introduced to the kid who’s going to die, for example, is one of the most glaring examples of that manipulation (and example of a scene being telegraphed before it happens) as the kid gets depicted as the perfect boy, who takes care of his drug-addicted mother: not only very smart but also very well-behaved, so that we can be even more depressed once he dies.

All the characters are so sketchily drawn out that it’s hard to see something more in them than their one dimension personalization: they do things just because the plot requires them to do so. Let’s take Matt Damon for example: he has a gift but he thinks it’s a curse, well, at least that’s what he says… The film never really properly explains why he thinks what he does. The script makes sure he tells us that he’s tired of having to live with death, but his character does nothing to show us that . All the way trough the film we get constantly told things in very forced lines of dialogue which are never really translated in action or pictures on the screen. For example, what on earth makes him change his mind towards the end of the film. Seeing a kid suffering for the loss of his brother? Is that really different from seeing a husband grieving for the loss of his wife, or a poor woman crying outside his door, begging for help? How’s that different? The film won’t tell us

Clint Eastwood‘s direction comes form a place of belief, something which might alienate a great deal of the audience. He also makes the terrible mistake of showing us what the afterlife is like right from the start, and the film never recovers from it.

The film lacks subtlety: it would have been much more interesting (and stronger) if it had remained less “Sci-fi” and more introspective. All those silly things like the twin’s blowing off the cap in the underground seemed to belong to a different film… Ghost maybe?

That to me is the main problem with the film (aside from the fact that it’s very slow, something which I don’t particularly mind, but I am sure a lot of people will): the fact that it doesn’t quite know what it wants to be. Is it an introspective drama about death? Is it fantasy story? Is it a religious propaganda? At one point it even seem like an action flick with that massive (and unexpected) Tsunami sequence (which I have to admit took me by surprise and yet it seems to belong to a different film, especially once you’ve seen the rest). Unfortunately the film tries to be all these things and more and in the end by trying too much ends up being quite unsatisfactory on pretty much all fronts. The script is just very clunky and the direction this time doesn’t make it any better.

It’s interesting to see how the trailer makes it look like a cross between the Sixth Sense2012 and even (once again) Ghost… Probably not even the publicists knew what to make of it.

Even the music is fairly forgettable as it keeps on re-hashing the same sort of cues we’re quite used to hear in a Clint Eastwood’s movie. Everything seems half-improvised on the spot without a real unifying theme.

The performances are probably OK, but it’s hard to judge with the weak material they’re given.

In the end this film proves that you just can’t make a film every year, whether you’re Clint Eastwood or Woody Allen: eventually the rush of putting all those ideas onto the screen without having enough time to make them work properly will begin to show. Just because a movie is about important things like death and loss doesn’t make it a good film. In fact this is a fairly pointless one.

5.5/10

PS: Having said all this, a very good friend of mine saw it recently and loved it. There you go. Once again, it’s all subjective.

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