By G. Michael Dobbs
In this week's DVD column, an outstanding drama and a textbook example of a low budget action film.
Director Clint Eastwood's low-key biopic of J. Edgar Hoover, the founder of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), probably surprised some people. Some audiences may have thought Eastwood known for his more conservative politics might have presented a whitewashed vision of the man who held onto power by having private files on Washington players.
Instead, Eastwood presents story of a very conflicted person and does so in a non-exploitative way. Perhaps this approach wasn't also satisfying to people who see Hoover as a villain.
What I liked about the film is that Eastwood and screenwriter Dustin Lance Black succeed in showing a portrait of an undeniable patriot and an uncontrollable paranoid; a man who was concerned about his image, more than his accomplishments; and a man who fought to create a federal policing agency, but also abused it.
Ultimately, "J. Edgar" is about a man who fights against many personal odds to achieve a goal, but the very nature of how he achieved those goals destroyed the legacy he so desperately wanted to have.
From capturing bank robbers in the 1930s to fighting Nazi spies in the 1940s, Hoover found himself unable to change with the law enforcement challenges of the last 20 years of his career. He fought acknowledging the existence of organized crime and looked for communist ties in anyone whom he believed was questioning the status quo.
Leonardo DiCaprio is amazing in the role. Although he looks nothing like Hoover, DiCaprio, with the help of minimal makeup, transforms himself into the stubby bulldog.
DiCaprio's performance is matched by Dame Judi Dench, who plays Hoover's controlling mother and Armie Hammer as Clyde Tolson, Hoover's second in command at the FBI and his lover.
Eastwood doesn't shy away from the issue of Hoover's homosexuality, but nor does he allow it to become the central theme of the movie. He effectively conveys the irony that Hoover sought to find out secrets about potential political opponents in order to protect his own secret.
The film has a washed-out look, which adds a certain documentary feel to it. Eastwood effectively hops back and forth to different times in Hoover's life, but manages to keep the narrative from becoming confusing.
It's a shame the Academy ignored the film. DiCaprio certainly deserved a nomination, as did Eastman. It's a fascinating drama, especially for those of us who remember J. Edgar.
If I was teaching a class in film as I did for years at Western New England University, I would be tempted to screen this new release as an example of how to make a low budget action exploitation film.
"Bounty Hunters" is a modest Canadian production starring former wrestling star Trish Stratus. Rule number one: have at least one person in the cast with some sort of name value who would appeal to the intended demographic.
The story is straight forward: a team of bounty hunters must decide if they are going to accept a bribe of $1 million to return a gangster to the local crime boss who wants to kill him so he can't testify against him. Rule number two: keep the story simple.
Rule three: give the audience what they want to see. Stratus can convincingly say a line and is quite beautiful, but she also can deliver the goods in the numerous fight scenes. That's what the audience of this film wants to see.
So is there violence, is there some gratuitous nudity? The filmmakers respect the expectations of the audience, as there is a brief scene in a strip club. Stratus, though, keeps her clothes on.
Rule five: keep it brief. This film keeps rolling straight ahead and doesn't try to add more exposition than need be. Again, they know their audience.
Rule six: will it rent at the Red Box? Oh, yes. Stratus will sell.
Is the film watchable? I didn't hit the fast forward button once. Would I ever watch it again? No. Is it groundbreaking in some way? Oh, no, but that is not the intent.
This film is all about watching a former WWE star kick some backside and shoot some guns. If that's your standard in entertainment, then rent this one today.
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