J. Edgar is a curious mix: It's slow, almost glacial, in parts, and then quickly, shockingly moving in others; it's cerebral, almost distant, and then emotionally raw. This much, though, isn't up for debate: DiCaprio's masterful performance. Insecure, aggressive, fragile, ambitious, and stunted, Hoover is a very complicated character -- and one who's very difficult to pull off. But DiCaprio leaves nothing on the table; he's all in, and it's a gamble he wins. He's matched by Hammer, who demonstrates again that he's an actor who understands nuance and delivers it. And Watts, too, proves why she's one of the best actresses around. Her withering stares wither, indeed, and her pitying glances are painful.
Screenwriter Dustin Lance Black takes on a mountain of a subject and mostly conquers it; he distills much of it manageably, if not always successfully. The Lindbergh case takes up a chunk of the storyline -- perhaps too much. Hoover's mother, played frighteningly, winningly close to the bone by grande dame Judi Dench, is so horrific that you have to wonder whether J. Edgar is laying too much of Hoover's dysfunction at her feet. But the abiding bond between Hoover and Tolson grounds much of this beautifully filmed history in emotion. It is by no means fact that Hoover and Tolson were lovers. But in J. Edgar, they're heartbreaking.