J. Edgar as reviewed by Matt Mungle in The Phantom Tollbooth

An outstanding performance does not a splendid film make.

Oscar bait: A term used to define end of year films that lure academy voters. Leonardo DiCaprio playing J. Edgar Hoover is one meaty hook. But an outstanding performance does not a splendid film make. The question is does J. Edgar have what it takes to be an all-around Oscar worthy film? The story is there, the character certainly intriguing, but when it all comes together something seems to be amiss.

The film chronicles the 48 years of the FBI from its creation through prominent events, all of which centered on its creator and most notable leader, J. Edgar Hoover (Leonardo DiCaprio). We get to see the early years as well as events like the Kennedy assassination, the kidnapping of Charles Lindbergh' s (Josh Lucas) baby, and the rise and fall of the American gangster. But even more prominent is the behind-the-scenes glimpse into his life of secrets; including his paranoia, his almost myopic dedication to the bureau, and his personal relationship with Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer).

Let's get the obvious out of the way first. DiCaprio is once again fabulous. With each film he seems to immerse himself into a character and rise above expectations. Some may argue that he is just playing Howard Hughes but in a different suite. Sure Leo leans toward playing non-fictional characters (Hughes, Abagnale, the upcoming Jay Gatsby) but this one still stands apart. For one, he has to play Hoover over 4 decades, each one with different levels of conviction and emotion, and each time the role plays out perfectly.

Those who want more bureau events and less personal life will be a little disappointed. The happenings that shaped our nation never get deeper than a skim across the surface. It would have been nice to focus a little more on the proceedings and the bureau's actual involvement, but the film never breaks character and always keeps the lens squarely on Hoover and his reactions. The only exception would be the Lindbergh kidnapping, manhunt and trial. This is focused on more than others due to Hoover's direct involvement and the way that the event shaped the actual FBI. At times the film seems choppy since it never goes deeper into certain events. Just when you think it is going to get deep it jumps back to Hoover in a different area of his life. The film could have flowed a little smoother.

There is no doubt that Hoover fashioned much of what we see today in law enforcement. His ideals and direction were groundbreaking to say the least. The movie does a decent job of balancing these accolades along with the odd, almost bizarre personal life that he led. The film certainly never defames Hoover but still many will find his lifestyle a secret that should have stayed kept. J. Edgar is rated R for brief strong language. It is a film intended for mature audiences and not one the kiddoes will enjoy or should be subjected to. There are many adult themes and the subject matter is for older viewers. It is safe to say that some will be off put by Hoover's preference to male companionship. But know that it is never portrayed in a lascivious or tasteless manner. Fans of superb acting will find several roles to latch onto in this one. If you want an action packed film this is not it. There are rare moments of FBI raids and gun play. This film is about the life of the man, not the bureau. It just so happens that at many times in history they were one in the same. I give it a solid 3.75 out of 5 secret files. Certainly a vote worthy film, just know its agenda.

Review copyright 2011 Mungleshow Productions. Used by Permission.