01/17/2012 16:32 | By Neil Smith, contributor, MSN Movies

J Edgar: movie review

Leonardo DiCaprio dons a ton of prosthetics to play FBI director J Edgar Hoover in Clint Eastwood’s hefty biopic.

J Edgar (© Warner)

Release date: 20 January 2012
Certificate: 15
Director: Clint Eastwood
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Naomi Watts, Judi Dench

What's the story? J Edgar Hoover (DiCaprio) looks back over his eventful career as first Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the personal relationships that made him the man he is.

What did we think? Two hours is a long time to spend with a bullying hard-ass, let alone one who, thanks to some often comical make-up, spends much of that time looking ridiculous. Though DiCaprio delivers a committed performance and Eastwood directs with his customary professionalism, their first collaboration is a slow, underwhelming bore.

J Edgar is the sort of movie tailor-made to Hoover up awards. In a way, though, that is its biggest liability. Anything helmed by Clint Eastwood, let alone a decade-straddling chronicle of one of the 20th Century's most divisive political figures, arrives weighed down with expectations. And when it fails to live up to those expectations, as this film patently does, it seems all the more disappointing for having so much premature hype attached to it.

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Yet Eastwood only has himself to blame. In setting out to explore Hoover's life from the 1920s through to the 1960s, his first move should have been - as was done in The Iron Lady - to divide the role between two actors. Instead he asks Leonardo DiCaprio to do the whole thing, requiring him (plus co-stars Naomi Watts and Armie Hammer) to spend large sections swathed in geriatric make-up.

Regardless of how well it's done, it serves as a huge distraction that works against the film's depiction of Hoover as a private, closeted man driven to collect secrets because he could not face his own. Throw in a confusing, talky screenplay riddled with jarring flashbacks and it's a film you'll soon be fed up with.

2 stars

Verdict: No Oscars this time, Clint.

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