The humourless Hoover

Film
J EDGAR
Cert: 15 ***

J Edgar must have been a tough one for its producers to sell; Americans may place a premium on patriotism but this bitter biopic of the former head of the FBI offers few reasons for fist pumping.

It’s a humourless, two and a quarter hour-long love-triangle between the Oedipal title character, his dessicated mother and his assistant

Director Clint Eastwood paints Hoover as an obsessive – possibly autistic, certainly suffering from undiagnosed mental distress – intent on destroying Communist forces within the US. His obsession with covert Red agents is even tentatively put forward as a rather unconvincing explanation for his harassment of civil rights activists (he once tried to blackmail Martin Luther King Jr into turning down the Nobel Peace Prize).

Eastwood’s Hoover, though, isn’t motivated by an altruistic love of his country but a desperate need for acceptance. He willfully lies in his autobiography and happily takes the credit for the work of others; partly for posterity but mostly to please his mother.

Judie Dench plays Mrs Hoover as if she were starring in a prequel to Psycho, set shortly before the corpse of Mrs Bates is transported to a rocking chair in the attic: she’s terrifying. Her quietly menacing, ultra-conservative presence ripples uncomfortably throughout the film.

Leonardo DiCaprio makes the pill slightly easier to swallow, bringing an element of charm to an otherwise charmless man. His portrayal of the older Hoover (the film charts his ascendency from an ambitious 24-year-old right through to his somewhat undignified death) is astonishing, in no small part down to outstanding make-up artistry.

Eastwood’s flair for uncomfortable silences is amply demonstrated. Hoover’s inability to accept the truth about his gay relationship with Clive Tolson – which is handled with commendable delicacy – is shown through a series of lingering shots of DiCaprio’s tortured face.

For the most part, J Edgar is steadfastly ambivalent about its subject. His work in establishing the FBI is lauded but few justifications are made for his innumerable flaws. The experience leaves you thinking you probably wouldn’t want to spend, say, two and a quarter hours in his company. J Edgar, though, remains an original take on a fascinating, if rather unpleasant, figure in American’s living history.

Film
CORIOLANUS
Cert: 15
Lisa Melvin ****

You can’t get away from Shakespeare at the moment. Sam Mendes is directing a big budget run for the BBC while Mark Rylance is staging pop-ups on the tube. Ralph Fiennes’ directorial debut, little-known war tragedy Coriolanus, can safely take its place in successful modern adaptations of the Bard’s plays.

Set in the present-day Rome, Coriolanus feels as if it could have been written in the wake of the Euzone crisis. The masses riot, politicians waver and the entire cast spend the film mired in despair. Flashes of news clips set the scene in Rome (including a cameo from Jon Snow), as food shortages and economic crisis grip the city, and Fiennes’ thuggish Coriolanus, contemptuous of the very people he is supposed to represent, does nothing to calm the situation.

The film, shot in Belgrade, looks classy and Shakespeare’s poetry shines in the modern setting. Vanessa Redgrave, as the bloodthirstily patriotic Volumnia, is particularly impressive.

Film
THE SITTER
Cert: 15
Stevie Martin **

Billed as subversive and "envelope-pushing", David Gordon Green (Pineapple Express) directs his latest comedy with the subtlety of a sledgehammer.

Jonah Hill is Noah, a layabout roped into babysitting three children and, when his girlfriend promises sex in return for some cocaine, a late night roadtrip with the kids ensues. Cue 82 minutes of chaos set to Hill's trademark dry one liners. Despite an entertaining Sam Rockwell as Karl, a dealer Noah accidentally steals from, it is all thoroughly average.

While soul searching is one thing, bludgeoning everyone over the head with life advice is quite another. What should be enjoyably silly becomes more cringey than comic thanks to constant heavy handed moralising. Avoid getting beaten up by car stealing gangs by asking them to look inside themselves! Complex emotional problems can be resolved in a matter of seconds! Don't pretend to be something you're not! It's hardly subversive and, in the end, just not funny enough.

Film
Haywire
Cert: 15
Stevie Martin **

The new spy thriller from Steven Soderbergh (Ocean's Eleven) gives you the feeling of having walked in on someone halfway through the second season of a TV boxset. Mallory Kane (Gina Carano) is a highly trained operative forced to go rogue when she finds out her boss, Kenneth, (a miscast Ewan McGregor) has double crossed her.

It's slickly filmed and Carano puts her martial arts champion credentials to good use in some brilliant fight sequences, but both the script and the middling pace give it a made-for-TV feel.

Writer Lem Dobbs's attempts to create intrigue result only in confusion: loose ends are enigmatic but not if you feel you've missed something. Kane's backstory is shadowy, but so is her current relationship with her father (Bill Paxman) who's oddly cool about his daughter's interesting career choice.

Haywire is enjoyable enough but certainly not Soderbergh at his best.

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April 22, 2014, 2:25pm