J. Edgar and Rosebud

Friday night’s LACMA screening/Q&A of J. Edgar hit home the Citizen Kane analogy for Clint Eastwood’s biopic. The absolute corruptibility of power; the yearning for a love unfulfilled; and sublimating those urges to wield power. In this case, J. Edgar blackmailed the powerful through their sexual indiscretions (Eleanor Roosevelt, JFK, Martin Luther King) to make up for his inability to express his own sexuality.

Arguably the most powerful figure of the 20th century, J. Edgar shrewdly set up the FBI and created his own law enforcement empire for nearly half a century, pioneering the science of forensics, cunningly promoting his image, and manipulating the media. In this regard, the snapshot of the Warner Bros. gangster film and its shifting emphasis from Jimmy Cagney’s gangster in Public Enemy (1931) to his lawman in G Men (1935) is fascinating and pure Eastwood.

Yet it’s the tender love story between Leonardo DiCaprio‚Äôs oppressive J. Edgar and Armie Hammer’s loyal lieutenant/partner Tolson that transforms the movie. Ironically, this could well be Eastwood’s most beautiful love story. During the Q&A, the celebrated director said he was attracted to the notion of exploring the secret behind the myth. I asked him afterward at the reception if he saw any connection between Hoover and Dirty Harry as law enforcement officers driven over the edge, and he just smiled and said that Dirty Harry came out at a time when attention was paid to victim’s rights.

For screenwriter Dustin Lance Black (Milk), “it’s a cautionary tale” tied to our post 9/11 fear of terror. As for the notorious cross-dressing scene, he said it was crucial to find an emotional hook: Hoover’s mother. Eastwood said he’s particularly proud of the way it was handled: “It’s his way of bringing himself closer to his mother [during such a vulnerable moment].”

I asked Hammer which was more challenging, the brutal lover’s quarrel fight in a hotel suite or the quiet moment of emotional reckoning at the end? He responded that it was the latter because of the emotional complexity and the physical limitations of the makeup and his character’s stroke. Fortunately, it was the last scene that they shot.

Both Hammer and DiCaprio rejoiced in the famed Eastwood method of no rehearsals and one or two takes. DiCaprio even wondered if maybe Eastwood did more takes than usual since they often did four or five. I asked Eastwood if he altered his method and he replied, “No, I always do a few takes but make sure I get lots of coverage.” Why no rehearsal? “I want to see the moment of discovery in their eyes and get the actors to trust their instincts, and I want to get it on film.”

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Below the Line, Events, Movies, Oscar, Tech, Trailers, VFX

Add a Comment