In 1964, Andy Warhol made a film called Empire that consisted of nothing more than a dusk-til-dawn shot of the Empire State Building. With a running time of just over eight hours, it’s widely considered the most boring movie ever made. Competition arrives, however, in the shape of this deathly-dull biopic of J Edgar Hoover.
Given that the man is among the most controversial figures of recent US history, making a film this tedious really takes some doing. Heck, even those with only a passing knowledge of Hoover’s life and times will come away little the wiser.
Leonardo DiCaprio (plus a whole lot of latex) plays the FBI chief in his seventies as he dictates his memoirs, prompting a series of flashbacks to key moments in his life, starting with his attempts to capture Communist radicals who were bombing DC in 1919. When his dedication is noted by his superiors at the Justice Department, young Hoover is promoted to the bureau where he establishes the county’s first national fingerprint database and recruits the brightest talents to help nail gangsters such as John Dillinger.
But, inevitably corrupted by power, he starts spying and building files on the great and the good – in fact, anyone who represents a threat to his power base.
A repressed and chaste homosexual, Hoover’s only confidantes are his ever-loyal secretary (Naomi Watts), his number two (Armie Hammer) and his beloved but icy mother (Judi Dench) who tells him she’d rather have a dead son than one who was gay.
Not helping matters are some confusing flashbacks within flashbacks, plus a twist ending that, after Shutter Island, feels both gimmicky and old hat.
It’s a shame DiCaprio’s committed performance and some attempts to get under Hoover’s skin are overwhelmed by an absolute lullaby of a script that’s unfocused and has nothing new to say. One for historians – and insomniacs.