In a comment below, the participant known as That Fuzzy Bastard says of my review of J. Edgar for MSN Movies, "I rather appreciate that your good review has all the material for a bad review of, well, just about any Eastwood movie---I don't think you're in the tank, just unbothered by exactly the things that make my skin crawl. 'Stiffly solemn all the way down to its desaturated color palette..., too much of the time the dialogue is a little bit on the button.' It's all that respectable, white-elephant, reaching for authority that bugs me, and I'm always a little surprised to see such a fan of the disreputable okay with the blatant respectable-liberal-Oscar-bait that infests Eastwood's movies..."
I found these points sufficiently interesting that I think they deserve the platform of their own post. They got me thinking about a bunch of things, among them being the fact that what I really do enjoy in the latter films directed by Eastwood is the way the ostensibly white-elephant material exists side by side with what I consider the real meat of the movies, the termite stuff, if you want to extend the Manny Farber terminology. There's a very messy dread at the heart of the film that is evoked at some of the most seemingly offhand moments. They reach a crescendo in the crucial mother-and-son confrontation of the film, a scene so utterly fraught and pathetic that it could have been plucked out of a great Fassbinder picture. And also that while my evocation of a stiff solemnity may have evoked for TFB a "reaching for authority," or respectability, the way it played for me on screen was rather different, that is, not so much Richard Attenburough's Gandhi as Carl Theodor Dreyer's Gertrud. That's not an analogy that can stand up to formal analysis, and it's not meant to, I just bring it up relative to the predominant tone I got from the picture. The atmosphere is, I think, very much deliberately kind-of-suffocating, rather than actively elevating. A fancy way of saying, I suppose, that the movie is a bit of a bummer, and all the better for it.
As to whether or not it's actively Oscar-bait, it might be a losing game to actively argue otherwise. Just as Martin Scorsese is highly unlikely to throw a RED camera on his shoulder and take to the streets to revisit the San Gennaro festival, so too ought we not entertain expectations that Eastwood will ever make something that's NOT an "event picture" for the balance of his career. For many reasons, some of them relatively obvious. For me the most germane (or at least personally intriguing)is the fact that he is a businessman as well as an artist. But I thought the artist—the termite—found pretty profitable engagement for himself with J. Edgar.