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November 08, 2011

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Chris O.

I guess we'll see all "in the tank" talk for HUGO, too? Those two directors yield it the most, it seems. Might as well get it all over with within a couple of weeks from each other.

Good review, Glenn. I'm anxious to see it.

lazarus

Well the good news is that I don't have a problem with Scorsese auteurists!

Glenn, I wish you would have taken my friendly jab (and not-exactly-subtle reference to Wells' post from last year re: Invictus or whatever yawn-inducing film Clint released that induced the accusation) as something less than a credibility challenge.

Don't feel too bad. The current Cahiers du Cinema gang put Gran Torino down as the 4th best film of 2009.

Glenn Kenny

I'm just messin' with ya, Laz.The blurb really DID catch me off-guard though, and made me wanna kiss the Ol' General. I know, aiiieee.

WG

I too generally liked the film - my review runs tomorrow - and I too feel preemptively persecuted for daring to not-hate it. Radical positions! Hidden agendas! Maybe, deep down, the WWW is really just like the FBI...

Scott

Nice review. I really didn't care for Clint Eastwood's last two movies, so I was thinking of just giving this a pass, but Mr. Kenny has persuaded me to check it out! (I'll also make a note of that book, which sounds good.) As for Eastwood directing a film that even his most fervent partisans will hate, his next project is reportedly a remake of "A Star is Born" starring Beyonce! I mean, if that doesn't do it...

And being accused of bad faith by Jeffrey Wells isn't that bad. At least you don't have Jonathan Lethem coming after you! This is veering off-topic, but for those who haven't read it, Lethem's disgruntled essay about a mixed review he received by James Wood, kindly reprinted by the L.A. Review of Books, is a very interesting read:

http://lareviewofbooks.org/post/12467824780/my-disappointment-critic

David Ehrenstein

http://fablog.ehrensteinland.com/2011/11/08/all-dressed-up-to-go-dreaming/

That Fuzzy Bastard

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, but it's hardly a crime, just a reminder that we all contain multitudes.

AeC

Rocchi lost me the instant he referred to a two-and-a-quarter-hour running running time as "leviathan."

Brian Dauth

In the context of recent discussions, Jeffrey Wells' remarks help to further define the widening gulf between the "go-with-my-gut" type of critical approach versus one that uses considered thought, expertise, and deep familiarity with an artist's work to arrive at a considered, nuanced opinion. The elite ignores its gut, instead relying on its higher functions to form critical opinion (such a gay way to be a critic. A man goes with his gut). Telling is Wells’ verdict that "... J. Edgar is a moderately boring film, at times in an almost punishing way. Mostly because it's a profound drag to spend time with such a sad, clenched and closeted tight-ass." I wonder if Wells would also object to "Macbeth" since regicides aren't known for being all that fun (Benjy Compson is probably also on his must-to-avoid list, since who could learn anything from an idiot).

Rocchi's review is just as mystifying with its plaint that "... J. Edgar functions as a Wikipedia page dipped in makeup, an assemblage of half-truths, gossip, innuendo and the occasional historical fact, all drenched in latex and drained of color." But if the postmodern turn has taught us nothing else, it has highlighted the fact that history is gossip and innuendo writ large. He frets that "Eastwood's film and Dustin Lance Black's screenplay shove all these big (and currently relevant) questions aside for fluff. Their major concern: was Hoover really a closeted homosexual and occasional cross-dresser?" I must respectfully disagree: examining the powerfully negative effects that sexual repression can have on a person in terms of both their own lives and the behaviors they display toward O/others is anything but fluff.

And then there is David Denby's bizarre comment about Black being an "activist gay screenwriter" (as if all artists were not activists of one sort or another), followed by his writing at the end of his review that "[g]ay activists may be disappointed by the filmmakers’ restrained assumptions about Hoover’s sexuality ... " which renders Black a gay activist screenwriter who has failed to be a gay activist. The mind is sent reeling.

Michael Healey

Wait: who's that in the picture above, DiCaprio or Clint Howard?

Eddie Carmel

Just saw it, and agree with your assessment, Glenn...though I actually wish Donovan had chewed the scenery a little more as Bobby K: it actually felt to me like he was underplaying, or that Black's script was in that moment, which may have seemed wise considering there have been entire TV movies about Bobby Kennedy and Hoover (seriously, and more than one: a cursory glance at IMDB shows Hoover as being played in these by Jack Warden, Ernest Borgnine, and Enrico Colantoni. Now THAT'S a part with range!)

That said, the somberness of the picture was frequently interrupted by masterful moments, like the editing of the bugging/wiretapping beginning, cross-cut with Hoover and Tolson in the elevator and the thirty-year-time jumps...a scene that I wouldn't have thought in Eastwood's particular bag of tricks and all the more impressive for it. DiCaprio's late in the game delivery of the line "Shut up, Clyde" enhanced the overall experience for me, as did the two lines they gave to Richard Nixon, lines which in their choice profanity were unexpected, hilarious, and lead to an ultimately poignant ending of a peculiarly moving film.

Oh, and you were right about the "we shall never let down our guard" line. That was a beauty.

Hollis Lime

That profane line from Nixon at the end is supposedly exactly what he said in real life.

Bettencourt

I tend to think a lot of people on this site, including our esteemed host, overrate Eastwood as a director, though I think UNFORGIVEN was one of the best American films of the 90s, and I was hugely impressed by the Iwo Jima films.

Despite this, I was very impressed by J. EDGAR, which I saw yesterday -- ambitious, fascinating and genuinely moving. I still wish he'd get someone else to score his movies -- though MYSTIC RIVER was the only of his films were the score actually made the film worse, rather than having little impact either way.

For those jonesing for some Armond White-bashing, The Onion has a column on White's latest rave: for JACK AND JILL

http://www.avclub.com/articles/its-time-for-armond-white-to-explain-why-everyone,65051/

AdenDreamsOf

Last year, I went on a J. Edgar Hoover reading binge. After learning about how mercurial, brilliant, and complicated Hoover was through Bryan Burrough’s book “Public Enemies”, I immediately read the definitive Hoover bio “The Man and The Secrets” by Curt Gentry. What fascinated me so much with Hoover was that he is such a tragic figure: his paranoia, resentments, insecurities, and other issues are what made him so powerful and influential while also holding back his growth as a human being. He did many immoral and corrupt things in his life, but my impression of him through those books was that he wanted to do good but lacked the personal skills to reflect and understand the perspectives of others to do so.

I liked Eastwood’s film, but here are some things I think the film gets wrong:

1. I don’t think Hoover’s mom was anywhere near as controlling or domineering as the film portrays her. Hoover’s father died under circumstances related to mental illness when Hoover was young, and it was Hoover’s choice to look after and live with his mother. He wanted to protect her and did not want her to be alone, and she didn’t seem to pressure him to stay with her. Hoover was ashamed of his father’s mental instability which might have been part of the reason he grew up to put success before his own emotional needs.

2. The film did a poor job of painting the dynamic between Hoover and Martin Luther King. Hoover resented King because Hoover felt King wanted to promote communist values. Near the end of King’s life, Hoover decided to give King a final chance, invited him to his office, and the two of them spoke for a long time. Hoover left their meeting thinking he had buried a grudge and made a friend. What King didn’t know was that he was being bugged by Hoover. When King went home and was asked how the meeting went, King replied “The old man talks too much” which Hoover overheard over the wiretap. After that, Hoover gave the FBI instructions not to warn King’s camps of any assassination threats which was their policy before King cemented Hoover’s grudge for good.

3. The cross-dressing scene is completely made up. I realize it was put in the film for emotional purposes, but it ignores the most profound complication and enigma related to Hoover’s files: people of power were afraid of Hoover’s files because they didn’t know what was in them and rumors started about Hoover may have been the result of that same fear. People could only live in fear of what he knew and what he didn’t know. Some historians think that the rumor’s of Hoover’s homosexuality and cross dressing are the result of rumors started to malign Hoover much in the same way he used rumors and secrets to control and bully others.

Anyway, that’s my long history lesson for the day.

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