J. Edgar, Clint Eastwood and the Fatal Flaws of Biopics
Right when Harry Callahan started shooting his .44 Magnums up and down the streets of my hometown, I granted Clint Eastwood a lifetime pass: if he has a hand in a film, I’ll see it. But after last night, when I struggled my way through the two and a half hour J. Edgar, I’m starting to rethink my vow. Clint really owes me another SF cop flick after that stinker.
There were a few aspects of the film that were specifically troubling (Armie Hammer’s old person makeup is really awful, as is his old man acting – I can only explain it as the senior citizen shuffle), but the real failing is a consistent flaw in almost all biopics. A great film should stand on its own; viewers shouldn’t be expected to study the portrayed protagonist before entering the theater.
Let’s look at Lawrence of Arabia as an example (however unfair the measuring bar). When I saw that film, I was a 19-year-old, born 65 years after T.E. Lawrence’s death, with some knowledge of the English role in the Middle East and absolutely no knowledge of the man himself. But it hardly mattered; I was enthralled throughout.
And that’s where newer biopics get it wrong. The first priority of any film should be to tell a great story; films should not be crafted like Wikipedia entries.
J. Edgar attempts to cover the entirety of a nearly 65-year career; trading story arc and character development for faux-celebrity sightings. The film seems most interested in giving history buffs a thrill; anyone well-versed in FBI history will love the winking references to Hoover’s surveillance of Nixon, Eleanor Roosevelt and Martin Luther King, as well as some really “fun” Kennedy accents. However, if you have not studied that history, then the second half of the film is pretty useless – unless you get a good laugh from some bad makeup.
There is a great story to be told there; either about the paranoia of an old man with too much power or the rise of an antisocial young man with too much ambition. But as this film proved, you can’t tell both tales. Great biopics succeed because they pick a small window of time and use it as a parable for a life; most biopics fail because they try to capture history with a panoramic lens.
So please, do not see bad biopics, because as long as they keep making money, Hollywood will keep putting them out. Save some cash this weekend, get cozy on a couch, and throw in Dirty Harry.
Let’s try our best to remember Mr. Eastwood when he still was kicking ass and taking names; and let’s hope that Hollywood will leave J. Edgar out of the biographical film they’ll eventually make about his life.
Follow us on twitter@thefastertimes
- 1 Brooklyn Man Now Living Entirely Off Own Beard Garden
- 2 “Cra Cra” Now Official Diagnosis in New DSM (DSM-5)
- 3 OfficeMax Marketing Director Struggling to Make Staplers ‘Sexy’ and ‘Conversational’
- 4 First Openly Straight Figure Skater Comes Forward
- 5 Area Man Tailors Life To Be More Relevant To His Hulu Advertisements
- 6 Fan Banging Furiously on Glass Could Be the Difference in Hockey Playoffs
- 7 Survey: 88% of Eagles Fans Too Drunk To Spell Nnamdi Asomugha Last Season
- 8 Attorney Actually Starting to Believe Own Bullshit
- 9 Homeless Guy Woos Silicon Valley VCs with Low-Tech Crowdfunding Strartup
- 10 Local Mom Won’t Stop Being First Person to Like Every Goddamn Thing Son Posts to Facebook