“When morals decline and good men do nothing evil flourishes,” one trailer intones, portentously. “My city screams. I cannot deny her,” goes another. The problem? The former is the just released first look at Clint Eastwood’s Oscar-baiting J.Edgar starring Leonardo DiCaprio as the complicated FBI chief who had a thing for secret files, ladies undergarments and, apparently, unspecific regional accents. The latter is the three-year-old teaser from The Spirit, Frank Miller’s Razzie-baiting stinker about a vengeful comic-book hero and his gravity-defying tie. That the two films — one pedigreed, one putrid — appear basically identical is not exactly the most promising first impression for a big-ticket holiday release.
But all hope is not lost: Fourth-quarter historical films demand a Campbell-ian structure and J. Edgar seems to have it in spades, with Judi Dench doing that classic mothering thing of telling her son to be a “great man” and Armie Hammer providing the fetching eye-candy. And we’re definitely looking forward to the sight of DiCaprio bullying a half-century of boldface names from Josh Lucas’s Charles Lindbergh to That Guy From Burn Notice as Bobby Kennedy, even if he has to do much of it underneath layers of Eddie Murphy’s leftover old-man latex. Still, if we had to bet on just one biopic of a controversial, steely, feminine politician, we’re going with The Iron Lady every time. Because, unlike Leo DiCaprio, we know for a fact Meryl Streep looks good in a dress.