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Saturday, December 3, 2011

Review: J. EDGAR

I never quite understood why those protesters a month back were occupying Wall Street. Wall Street, as a symbol, is a carnivorous monster bent on hoarding money--the most quantitative element of hedonism. Wall Street failed nobody anymore than a shark fails swimmers by taking a bite out of them. We don’t blame sharks though; we blame the lifeguards.

My confusion regarding the whole Occupy debacle was only compounded when the police moved in on everybody around the country and forced confrontations. Now the country has to reexamine its priorities and the nearly flippant use of pepper spray as a way of avoiding communication. The powers that be could have just left the protesters out in the cold; December’s icy grip was already tightening and nobody had specific enough goals to voluntarily suffer through the winter. Why not just let the Occupiers die the worst possible death, a death of disinterest, a death not captured by iPhones and thrown on YouTube?

While Clint Eastwood in no way had neither the foresight nor sense of self-examination required to make a culturally noteworthy film, his concisely-titled “J. Edgar” does challenger the viewers’ perception on legal righteous. Eastwood may be several films deep in his own directorial career, but I think he has leveled off as a smart filmmaker for the lowest common denominator. Like his last ten annual efforts, he drains “J. Edgar” of color and de-saturates the pallet in some kind of Anti-Tim Burton stylization so that people can comment on the cinematography without asking, “Why the hell do all of Eastwood’s films look the same?”

Perhaps the cinematography will stay true to the film’s technical style in that it could be one of the three categories “J. Edgar” can hope for an Oscar nomination. In similar league would be the highly anticipated makeup conversion, turning Leonardo Dicaprio into a sixty-year-old Gerber baby.

Sure, Dicaprio does a fine enough job, acting through the five pounds of makeup on his face. Though his cohort Armie Hammer has a visibly harder time and just generally looks like his face is melting or otherwise reducing himself to the acting cliches of a high schooler. As the story isn’t really about characters, or really even a story at all, I suppose we can just focus on the point—a point I’m not entirely convinced Eastwood himself was lucid of.

The FBI, as depicted in the film, sprung as a response to the fear of anarchists in the 1920s. The first notable violence during this post-WWI time was a string of bombing and attacks outside the houses of various government officials, senators and prominent businessmen. Now, when I/the film say “anarchists,” that’s actually including socialists, suffragists, communists, foreigners, literati, crazy people, progressives and anybody else decrying the economic status quo. Not unlike modern acts of terrorism, these attacks where not random. And while they may be detestable and even despicable, they were targeted attacks. In Hoover’s time, this meant the rich and powerful were in a level of danger they could not tolerate or payoff.

Hoover’s arrests proved measurably successful when X amount of poor people were deported from the land of the free but the paranoia rightfully remained and less than two scenes later, the most famous man in America (Charles Lindbergh) had his baby stolen. This kidnapping gripped the country in a way that is simply inconceivable in an era when missing children with no previous claim to fame can go missing and become overnight media sensations (if they’re white enough). I can’t even think of a 2011 equivalent to Charles Lindbergh, though a 2009 equivalent might have been some ungodly masculine combination of Captain Sully and that guy from the Old Spice commercials.

So anyhow Charles Lind-Awesome allows his tragedy to become the FBI’s kickoff to unprecedented freedom, information and technology—all courtesy of congressmen who are both among the rich, and friends with the rich, who need unequaled protection from the dangers of society. At first, Hoover and the FBI are befuddled that middle/lower class Americans sneered at the new agency and cheered on, of all people, bank robbers, gunmen, bootleg runners and other suppliers of vice and all that is fun.

It wasn’t until the Great Depression stopped feeling like an event and started becoming a way of life that Americans stopped seeing their life as is and allowed themselves to daydream, or even plan, of becoming rich. And if we are all going to become rich, then by God, we’ll want all the assurances that we can get that the riches to be gotten will stay in our grubby hands. If the FBI had just come out and said they are an organization, a tool, for the top 10% of Americans you can safely bet that in 1935—and 2011—that far more than 10% of Americans would still support the continuation of the bureau.

“J. Edgar” does not spend much time explicitly detailing the economic patterns of the investigations (that is, rich people are the victims) but rather reiterates the unprecedented “science” of the FBI. With some trace of unintended individuality in the world of Big Cinema, the film’s science faults are not due to factual errors but rather the dogmatic embrace of fingerprints and other forefathers of forensic evidence. Indeed, the FBI’s early methodology was a marked improvement from the Salem Witch Trials but the science of guilt was shortly substituted for the science of technology. Essentially, using evidence to find the guilty people became less important than finding guilt with random people. There was nothing “scientific” to wiretapping JFK, going through Eleanor Roosevelt’s mail or sabotaging Martin Luther King, Jr.

Fortunately, in “J. Edgar,” the best point is made with the Machiavellian character’s asperity for self-preservation. The movie shows us a character who is not obsessed with communism, revenge, recognition or even justice, but rather a character who is consumed with--and wildly competent at--consistency in a turbulent nation. But, ultimately, we do not need consistency in the country or in the movie.

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