And critics have been commenting on the actor’s wide-ranging performance (he plays Hoover from his mid-20s to his 70s), but the reviews are mixed (though there is one buzzword that seems to appear in most descriptions of the actor’s take on the role: committed).
“DiCaprio projects this odd authority figure with energetic earnestness, a strong grip on the man’s mindset and purpose, and an attentiveness to Hoover’s power to prevail over others in matters big and small,” says The Hollywood Reporter‘s chief film critic Todd McCarthy. “It’s a vigorous, capable performance, one that carries the film and breathes new life into the old tradition of plain real folk achieving retroactive allure by being played by attractive stars. But the characterization remains external, one of solid technique blocked from going deep because Hoover remains a fixed figure closed to taking a personal journey.”
“Leonardo DiCaprio grounded and sure, has commitment to spare. His portrayal of Hoover is undeniably terrific,” gushes the New York Daily News which goes on to call him “our most underappreciated major actor.”
Time is not as impressed, writing, “DiCaprio can do many things, but it takes more than ambition and good intentions for a star so young (he turns 37 this Friday) and so identified with winsome, troubled heroes to slip under Hoover’s skin. Literally: the aging makeup DiCaprio wears as old Edger looks like parchment, not epidermis; and locating the interior of the man proves equally elusive.”
“His eyes are a little too feline to fully capture Hoover’s wide-eyed, bulldoggish appearance – but he otherwise embodies the pugnacious self-assurance and rat-a-tat rhythms of his speech,” says film critic Marshall Fine. “Even when he’s forced to act beneath rubber prosthetic makeup made to age him to Hoover’s 70-plus years, DiCaprio finds the swagger – but also the vulnerability – of someone who has spent his life fighting for the forces of right, while trying to keep his wrong impulses in check.”
The Associated Press praises the actor’s performance, saying, “DiCaprio has no hesitation about the biopic, and he does a great deal to make J. Edgar a compelling one. Thanks to Deborah Hopper’s excellent costumes, he plays the character across decades (as Hammer and Watts do as well). He’s most striking, almost Orson Welles-ish, as the elderly Hoover.”