'J. Edgar': What the Critics Are Saying

J. Edgar Film Still Leonardo DiCaprio -H 2011
Keith Bernstein/Warner Bros. Pictures

Early reviews of the Clint Eastwood-directed film starring Leonardo DiCaprio have been mixed.

Clint Eastwood's upcoming biographical tale, J. Edgar, revolving around the first FBI director J. Edgar Hoover kicked off this year's AFI Fest (and is the subject of The Hollywood Reporter's latest cover story). Late Thursday evening, critics began weighing in on the Oscar hopeful that stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Armie Hammer and Naomi Watts.

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THR's Todd McCarthy gave the feature a positive review. "This surprising collaboration between director Clint Eastwood and Milk screenwriter Dustin Lance Black tackles its trickiest challenges with plausibility and good sense, while serving up a simmeringly caustic view of its controversial subject's behavior, public and private," he writes. "Big-name talent behind and in front of the camera, led by a committed performance by Leonardo DiCaprio in the title role, assures extensive media attention and public curiosity up to a point."

But McCarthy cautions that Warner Bros., the studio behind the film, will face challenges marketing it to the public. The studio, he says, "faces a significant commercial challenge in stirring the interest of younger audiences likely to regard J. Edgar Hoover as an irrelevant artifact of the bad old days or, most reductively, a hypocritical closet case."

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THR's awards blogger Scott Feinberg attended Thursday's premiere and while he said his "gut feeling was that I had just seen a very good film," it was not "a slam-dunk for a best picture nomination or anything else (though I would be pretty surprised if, at the very least, DiCaprio doesn't make it into the best actor field and the film's showy makeup work isn't recognized)." Though he did credit the film's look, calling it "visually beautiful, intellectually stimulating."

Screen International's Mike Goodridge gave J. Edgar a good review, as well, giving note to the two-hour film's claim to fame. "Its biggest achievement is to look at recent U.S. history through a personal and distinctively gay lens," he writes in his review. "In fact, Eastwood delivers the most un-self-conscious depiction of a gay relationship in a mainstream studio movie to date, although gay rights activists will hardly be looking to promote J. Edgar Hoover as any sort of role model."

But not all critics were buying into the hype.

Slant's Glenn Heath Jr. said Eastwood's attempt at telling the story of a historical figure "is as long-winded as it is convoluted" and the actor-director "hasn't just made a bad film, he's also made a downright lazy one." Heath Jr. likened the flashbacks to Citizen Kane that "it's almost shocking Eastwood doesn't throw in a 'News on the March' segment at some point."

HitFix's Kris Tapley wasn't 100 percent sold on the film ("The film itself, though, wasn't .. impressive."), but praised DiCaprio's portrayal of Hoover that could potentially carry him to an Oscar victory. "Leonardo DiCaprio is exceptional in the title role, digging into an incredibly complex character, committing from frame one to the embodiment and maintaining that course without losing focus," he writes. "It's at times a broad portrayal of a broad persona, but I thought the actor found ways to dial it down and make the internal machinations of the man count."

Of the issues at hand in the film, Tapley says, "The problems mostly stem from a somewhat lazy, arbitrarily structured 'greatest hits' screenplay from Dustin Lance Black. It's clunky and labored, but it's really only part of the problem."