Much like The Iron Lady, this is one of those political biopics that’s generated interest more for its central performance than story or plot. And I’m someone who finds Leonardo DiCaprio, like Tom Cruise, rather samey as an actor. Sometimes his performance is acclaimed, sometimes it isn’t, and I usually can’t tell the difference. Here, at last, I have seen a unique range in his performance that does stand out; and I do mean in a good way.
I’ve always found ageing makeup problematic in movies, as it’s frequently unconvincing to the point where it’s distracting. Here, the makeup on DiCaprio is noticeable, but believable, and I believe a lot of that is down to DiCaprio’s performance. Old man Edgar moves and talks differently to young man Edgar. Armie Hammer, on the hand, demonstrates his acting inexperience here, as his “old man” is never convincing, despite his best efforts. I can’t put my finger on what Hammer’s doing wrong- I just know DiCaprio’s got it right.
That said, whilst J. Edgar is certainly a better film than The Iron Lady, on a performance level, DiCaprio’s doesn’t even come close to Streep’s.
In my opinion, a biopic is successful if it’s told you the story of someone’s life in a way that leaves you feeling like an authority on the subject. However, J. Edgar left me with an urge to Google. It seemed to assume I already knew who he (and several of his colleagues) were, and, mostly, I didn’t. That may be down to my own lack of education, but surely any film needs to establish its characters on its own? I’ve certainly come to expect better from Clint Eastwood in recent years.