Metascore
59

Mixed or average reviews - based on 42 Critics

Critic score distribution:
  1. Positive: 24 out of 42
  2. Negative: 4 out of 42
  1. Reviewed by: Kenneth Turan
    Nov 8, 2011
    90
    J. Edgar is a somber, enigmatic, darkly fascinating tale, and how could it be otherwise?
  2. Reviewed by: Roger Ebert
    Nov 9, 2011
    88
    As a period biopic, J. Edgar is masterful. Few films span seven decades this comfortably.
  3. Reviewed by: Lou Lumenick
    Nov 9, 2011
    88
    DiCaprio may well receive a Best Actor Oscar for his tour de force as the conflicted FBI director -- greatly abetted by Hammer (who played the Winklevoss twins in "The Social Network'') in his first major role as the flamboyant but frustrated Tolson.
  4. Reviewed by: J.R. Jones
    Nov 10, 2011
    80
    The one mystery Black and Eastwood can't solve is Hoover's love life - perhaps because the solution is too simple to be believed.
  5. Reviewed by: J. Hoberman
    Nov 8, 2011
    80
    Although hardly flawless, Eastwood's biopic is his richest, most ambitious movie since the "Letters From Iwo Jima" – "Flags of Our Fathers" duo, if not "Unforgiven."
  6. Reviewed by: Manohla Dargis
    Nov 8, 2011
    80
    Mr. Eastwood doesn't just shift between Hoover's past and present, his intimate life and popular persona, he also puts them into dialectic play, showing repeatedly how each informed the other.
  7. Reviewed by: Todd McCarthy
    Nov 4, 2011
    80
    This surprising collaboration between director Clint Eastwood and "Milk" screenwriter Dustin Lance Black tackles its trickiest challenges with plausibility and good sense, while serving up a simmeringly caustic view of its controversial subject's behavior, public and private.
  8. Reviewed by: Marjorie Baumgarten
    Nov 9, 2011
    78
    Filmed primarily in desaturated colors and oblique shadows, the look of J. Edgar is spot-on. The time frame jumps around, spanning decades in a single leap, but it doesn't strain the structure. Eastwood and DiCaprio have delivered a nuanced story about a man, a mythos, and an institution that relies on the facts rather than the legend.
  9. Reviewed by: Peter Travers
    Nov 9, 2011
    75
    Even when the film trips on its tall ambitions, you can't shake it off.
  10. Reviewed by: Owen Gleiberman
    Nov 9, 2011
    75
    DiCaprio does more than disappear behind steely glasses and prosthetic old-age makeup. He transforms himself, in a feat of acting, from the inside out.
  11. Reviewed by: Jaime N. Christley
    Nov 9, 2011
    75
    Black's script, in the wrong hands, could have come under fire for confusing Hoover's twisted mind with his homosexuality or his problems with Mother. Eastwood doesn't seem to give a fuck, and only opts for one overt visual match, depicting as mirror images Hoover's lifeless corpse and the remains of the Lindbergh baby.
  12. Reviewed by: Michael Phillips
    Nov 9, 2011
    75
    I like the way DiCaprio and Hammer capture the little things - the byplay, the moments in which two men are "playing" FBI agents, partly for show, partly for real. At times, DiCaprio's macho posturing recalls a junior G-man version of Marlon Brando's self-hating homosexual in "Reflections of a Golden Eye."
  13. Reviewed by: James Berardinelli
    Nov 9, 2011
    75
    DiCaprio wears the persona of Hoover with ease, again reminding audiences that the young man who made so many girls swoon with Titanic has grown into an actor of great range and capability.
  14. Reviewed by: Claudia Puig
    Nov 8, 2011
    75
    J. Edgar shines a probing beam of light on a man who was widely feared, often disliked, but rarely understood.
  15. Reviewed by: Bill Goodykoontz
    Nov 9, 2011
    70
    It is flawed but ultimately captivating.
  16. Reviewed by: David Denby
    Nov 7, 2011
    70
    No stranger man - not even Nixon - has ever been at the center of an American epic.
  17. Reviewed by: Peter Rainer
    Nov 10, 2011
    67
    The foundation of this sympathy is Hoover's complicated sexuality. Eastwood and Black have attempted to provide Hoover with the balm he denied himself in his own lifetime. It doesn't work.
  18. Reviewed by: Shawn Levy
    Nov 10, 2011
    67
    Eastwood never manages to bring the past to life, even as DiCaprio and company dive gamely into the material.
  19. Reviewed by: Rick Groen
    Nov 11, 2011
    63
    What a sprawling, befuddling, fascinating, frustrating mess of a movie. Usually the tautest of directors, Clint Eastwood has gone all slack here, allowing his subject to get completely away from him.
  20. Reviewed by: Mike Scott
    Nov 11, 2011
    63
    So while J. Edgar ends up feeling like a mostly complete portrait of the man, and as fascinating a story as it is, it still falls just short of being something entirely memorable.
  21. Reviewed by: Ty Burr
    Nov 10, 2011
    63
    That J. Edgar never ultimately convinces - that at times it's quite entertainingly bad - can be blamed on both an unfocused script and the project's very bigness. Somewhere in this ambitious, meticulously produced epic is a small love story struggling to get out.
  22. Reviewed by: Steven Rea
    Nov 10, 2011
    63
    Most disappointing, Eastwood's decades-spanning portrait reveals little about the man himself.
  23. Reviewed by: Lawrence Toppman
    Nov 9, 2011
    63
    So what's the motivation for the earnest, handsome, well-acted, unenlightening, workaday J. Edgar in 2011?
  24. Reviewed by: Rene Rodriguez
    Nov 9, 2011
    63
    This is Eastwood's "Brokeback Mountain," chased by a healthy serving of "J.F.K."- style paranoia and conspiracies (Oliver Stone is going to love this movie.) But because so much of what the film says about Hoover remains speculative and unproven, J. Edgar can't fully cross all its Ts.
  25. Reviewed by: Nick de Semlyen
    Jan 16, 2012
    60
    A well acted but unfocused study of one of the 20th century's most colourful characters.
  26. Reviewed by: Joe Neumaier
    Nov 8, 2011
    60
    At least Leonardo DiCaprio, grounded and sure, has commitment to spare. His portrayal of Hoover is undeniably terrific.
  27. Reviewed by: Peter Debruge
    Nov 4, 2011
    60
    Any movie in which the longtime FBI honcho features as the central character must supply some insight into what made him tick, or suffer from the reality that the Bureau's exploits were far more interesting than the bureaucrat who ran it -- a dilemma J. Edgar never rises above.
  28. Reviewed by: Tasha Robinson
    Nov 9, 2011
    58
    Eastwood's prim, respectful biography presents Hoover in turn as a muddy political metaphor, a lesson in self-mythologizing, and a case history in repression, but never particularly as a man.
  29. Reviewed by: Steve Persall
    Nov 9, 2011
    58
    There might be a great movie about any of Hoover's triumphs and secrets, but not all at once.
  30. Reviewed by: Stephanie Zacharek
    Nov 9, 2011
    55
    As Lily Tomlin's Ernestine once said, "There's nothing like a Hoover when you're dealing with dirt." Clint Eastwood's J. Edgar could use more dirt: This is a sensitive, sympathetic portrait of a scummy little man.
  31. Reviewed by: Joe Williams
    Nov 10, 2011
    50
    J. Edgar is the kind of prestige production that apologists will call polished, but even the technical attributes are tinny. In the gay-geezers scenes, Hammer wears terrible old-age makeup, and the entire film is bathed in sepia tones as weak as its convictions.
  32. Reviewed by: Dana Stevens
    Nov 9, 2011
    50
    Whether unintentionally or by design, the movie never really makes a case either for or against the troubled figure at its center.
  33. Reviewed by: Mick LaSalle
    Nov 9, 2011
    50
    It's watchable and reasonably entertaining, to be sure. Eastwood doesn't make movies that are hard to sit through. But something in the film's point of view is off, not at cross-purposes, not contradictory, but incomplete, irrelevant and ever-so-faintly ridiculous.
  34. Reviewed by: Roger Moore
    Nov 9, 2011
    50
    Truth be told, J. Edgar drags, even when it pays homage to the widely discredited urban legend that the guy liked to dress in drag.
  35. Reviewed by: Richard Corliss
    Nov 9, 2011
    50
    The film manages to be both sensational and stodgy, like a guided tour that goes on until it drones.
  36. Reviewed by: Rex Reed
    Nov 8, 2011
    50
    I expected more from a movie about the most feared man in America for half a century. Whatever else you think about him, in retrospect, he had balls of brass - an essential quality replaced in J. Edgar by dull indifference.
  37. Reviewed by: Joshua Rothkopf
    Nov 8, 2011
    40
    J. Edgar is infuriatingly coy and noncritical about its subject, an undeniable patriot but also an alarmist and a ruiner of lives.
  38. 40
    It's too bad J. Edgar is so shapeless and turgid and ham-handed, so rich in bad lines and worse readings. Not DiCaprio, though.
  39. Reviewed by: Ann Hornaday
    Nov 9, 2011
    38
    All of it makes for a rollicking, outsize tale of overweening ambition and palace intrigue, but J. Edgar instead plays it safe in a turgid, back-and-forth series of tableaux that look as if they were filmed from behind a scrim soaked in weak tea.
  40. Reviewed by: Joe Morgenstern
    Nov 10, 2011
    20
    J. Edgar, with Leonardo DiCaprio in the title role, is at war with itself, and everyone loses...Mr. Eastwood's ponderous direction, a clumsy script by Dustin Lance Black and ghastly slatherings of old-age makeup all conspire to put the story at an emotional and historical distance. It's a partially animated waxworks.
  41. Reviewed by: Andrew O'Hehir
    Nov 9, 2011
    20
    J. Edgar turns out to be one of the worst ideas anybody's ever had, a mendacious, muddled, sub-mediocre mess that turns some of the most explosive episodes of the 20th century into bad domestic melodrama and refuses to take any clear position on one of American history's most controversial figures.
  42. Reviewed by: James Rocchi
    Nov 6, 2011
    20
    Between Eastwood's direction and Dustin Lance Black's screenplay, what you feel leaking off the screen in every scene is missed opportunity.
User Score
6.4

Generally favorable reviews- based on 170 Ratings

User score distribution:
  1. Positive: 32 out of 56
  2. Negative: 11 out of 56
  1. Nov 9, 2011
    10
    Awesome movie! DiCaprio needs to get that Oscar already!!! Ordinary critics didn't understand it because of the many narrative and time shifts but this film is a gem. Full Review »
  2. Nov 18, 2011
    2
    Every second of DiCaprio and Hammer in their rubber old man make-up (complete with terribly cliched old men shaky walks and bad shaky voices) is a blow against an otherwise interesting film. And there are enough seconds to turn the whole film into a joke. Dreadful performances. Eastwood really let this one get away from him. Too bad. Full Review »
  3. Nov 14, 2011
    4
    Well, I cannot think of much positive to say about this film. There was nothing new to be learned, no subplots developed, nothing revealed, and it just seemed like Eastwood was lost. Leonardo was packed under tons of makeup to play the elder Hoover with the film flashing back to key points in the pasts. Yet these key points were nothing we did not already know about and nothing knew was revealed about the. Eastwood focused mainly on his private gay life and partner but should that be the focus of a biography of someone this important in American history. A hugh disappointment to me. Full Review »