Let's address the large elephant in drag in the room first: yes, "J. Edgar" could garner some gold from Oscar, or it could not. Either way, I don't think Eastwood gives a shit.


"J. Edgar" is certainly from the same filmmaker who successfully made the previous supernatural "Hereafter," without even adding two cents concerning his own answers as to where we go when we die. This is another Eastwood movie made with pure intentions, and no politics of its own. He doesn't care for them. Everything is wonderfully presented as is.


In Eastwood's latest, Leonardo DiCaprio plays J. Edgar Hoover, in both his whipper-snapping days in the early incarnation of the F.B.I, and during his last moments at the top of America, with a lifetime of secrets to his name.

His mother is played by Judi Dench, who raises Edgar to be a responsible gentleman, and gives him the foundation for his work in the Bureau of Investigation, for better or for worse. She is even very strict about her son's sexuality ("I'd rather have a dead son than a daffodil," she says to him in one of the film's most incredible scenes).


As he continues to build the Bureau of Investigation by specific looking agents, Edgar also starts up a strange camaraderie with Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer), who becomes his "#2" in operations.


"J. Edgar" also tells the story of Hoover's involvement with the Lindbergh baby scandal, and how such events ultimately lead to more power for the F.B.I, and more popularity for Hoover despite his private life.


This is a title-performance that calls attention to its mannerisms more than its depth. Here, DiCaprio has a lot of unique character traits to bring to screen, from Hoover's fast talking nervousness to his unique accent and continuous tenseness. Even on these grounds, however, this is a great turn from DiCaprio, even if he can't get us to look into his extremely fucked up internals, and look beyond his impressive external.

Working with the advantage of having only one big role before him ("The Social Network") and not having to try to act his ass off, Hammer is extremely impressive in the role of Clyde. Hammer maintains a very watchable presence in both the film's flashbacks and the present day scenes that require him to act past the heavy make-up. His depiction of old age is particularly convincing, as he presents frailties without once playing it up. His chemistry with DiCaprio is nearly incredible. In this year's most surprising role, Hammer provides a solid opposite to DiCaprio's sometimes ham.


As for the always impressive Dame Judi Dench, her time on-screen is limited, but her repressive influence is a looming cloud as the intimidating mother of J. Edgar. Dench has scenes in which she is a loving influence to her son, but she also has moments in which she's viciously insensitive, not offering tough love to her son, but maternally bullying him. Like Hammer's performance, her bits are effortless.


In order to cram in as much story as possible, "J. Edgar" has a heavy usage of voiceover, which is not as welcome as simply seeing such events ourselves. The movie's most emotional moments are treated with some sweet lines, some of which could be too cheesy were they not operating on the high power of the performances in "J. Edgar."


The "J. Edgar" soundtrack features classic recordings of romantic period tunes "My Blue Heaven," and "Red Sails in the Sunset," the latter heard at least a couple of times during the film. Forgoing the usual choice of coloring an entire film with one flexible melody, Eastwood gives moments in the film single notes to dwell on, but beautifully ties all of these notes together for the score's only moment of melody to make a uniting pivotal scene in "J. Edgar" even more powerful.

The story of Clyde and Edgar works so well because their chemistry is charged on such opposite personalities. And the two seem to also represent the types of filmmakers we have in the movies - those like DiCaprio's handling of Hoover, who fire off on all cylinders, including their back-up supply, to power up our attention, but instead remind us of their hunger for praise.


But then there are filmmakers like Eastwood, who already have the praise under his belt from decades of acting and directing, and who already have the entire approval of a whole studio for wherever he goes (Warner Bros. works for him now, basically), who brings a positive connotation to breezy filmmaking.


This breeziness is mimicked by the feeling of Hammer's performance - whose work is more watchable than DiCaprio's roaring moments because it feels almost effortless. Just as we can be attentively disarmed by Hammer's handsome and pure presence, presenting himself as is, so can we be caught up with "J. Edgar," a film made with Eastwood purity (that is, "no bullshit") that presents things as is. So much, that even while observing elements of security and homosexuality, which would be ramped up for their modernity by almost anyone else, this movie's stance might as well be efficiently apolitical and asexual.


Such indifferent filmmaking is exactly what the challenging legacy of Hoover needs. Even when Eastwood indulges us in our curiosities of seeing Hoover in mother's dress, there isn't an ounce of manipulation in such a scene, despite the sequence's tragic context. Something that we've only seen before usually in a humorous setting, as a colleague pointed out, gets a functional and pure treatment with Eastwood's attitude.


The same can be said for the romance at the center of the movie, which strikes at something even more personal than his previous attempt at showing difficult love, "The Bridges of Madison County," which Eastwood even starred in. And yet, as Eastwood has said about this movie, turning down the volume on an aspect that makes "J. Edgar" the most special of all, which is the fact that he has so easily made a movie that doesn't downplay homosexuality, "It's not about two gay guys."


Regarding the search for any sort of message, Eastwood does find this story to be a solid fit of the recurring themes that have intrigued him in past films: the struggle to protect children ("Changeling"), the flaws of revered heroes, and their ultimate legacy ("Flags of Our Fathers," etc).


Eastwood particularly enjoys the legacy of J. Edgar, but leaves it up to us as to what we ultimately think about such a character. We are given entire monologues by DiCaprio's character regarding his beliefs and what he thinks are "The Facts," yet at the same time we are shown the other side of the coin; the many flaws that have made him such an unusual part of important American history, and certainly a complex non-fictional character worthy of such a biopic.


Eastwood's breeziness does not always prove beneficial to his audience. The introduction of J. Edgar himself is bumpy, as Leo's horse pill accent comes in immediate tow with many other large elements of the entire film that jar the focus of the

audience, such as moving back and forth from flashbacks and voiceovers. (Thankfully, the script ultimately proves itself to be more sophisticated with such flat storytelling techniques).


"J. Edgar" works best when Eastwood has full control of his breeziness. It's most successful when it sticks to a time period and allows whole chapters of Edgar's life speak, as it does during its fascinating second act, and heartbreaking third act.   -- NICK ALLEN, is also a film critic for The Scorecard Review and member of Chicago Film Critics Association