Clint Eastwood directed J. Edgar, and sometimes his movies are great, and sometimes they are too subdued, slow-paced, for most audiences. This one, however, is the former.
All I really knew about J. Edgar Hoover was that he created the FBI and he supposedly wore dresses behind closed doors. As it turns out, there’s a whole lot more to this guy than those two things. Yes, I’m kidding. Sort of. Of course there’s more to him than that, but certainly not when it comes to the FBI. The FBI was his life. For 48 years. Damn. That’s a level of dedication that borders on the pathalogical, which is kind of an appropriate term to use in this context.
J. Edgar Hoover was indeed the head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation for 48 years. This biopic follows him throughout that time as a man that was often feared, admired, hated and yet revered. But there were aspects of his personal life, secrets, that could have destroyed his reputation, his career, and his life.
Clint Eastwood directed J. Edgar, and sometimes his movies are great, and sometimes they are too subdued, slow-paced, for most audiences. This one, however, is the former. This film is a true biopic. It’s not so much about the public events that people might know about Hoover, it’s about the things that we might not know. There are stories of Hoover being a cross-dresser, that he may have been gay. These things are supposed, I imagine, becuase of the observance of factual things about him. He lived with his mother until she died, he spent a great deal of time with his right hand man, Clyde Tolson, and they were often seen holding hands in public. They even shared hotel rooms when they traveled. But Eastwood makes a point to not cheapen or sully any of this by creating any tawdry or salacious scenes in the film. Not to say that Eastwood particularly respected Hoover, but he certainly didn’t seem to desire to be malicious, either.
And this is all not to say that the film doesn’t follow Hoover’s public career as the Director of the FBI, because it certainly does. From the beginning of the Bureau in 1924, until Hoover’s death in 1972, we see his amazing accomplishments, as well as his version of many convictions of well known criminals. Covering all this time, I should say the production design is amazing. There is so much attention to detail across the board here in sets, costumes and dressing in each of the decades in J. Edgar.
The acting is wonderful. I have to say, as he gets older, Leonardo DiCaprio has become a fine, quality actor. Hoover’s reputation of being exeedingly uncharismatic might make you discount DiCaprio’s work here, but it is a full, three-dimensional, subtle, and convincing performance. The make up is excellent, though we know Dicaprio is not a man in his late 60’s, so one is inevitably aware of it. But still, it’s well done. I didn’t, however, feel the make-up was quite as convincing with actor Armie Hammer playing Tolson. It was good, but somehow felt more like make-up.
There are lots of actors in J. Edgar that you’ll recognize, even in small supporting roles. Naomi Watts plays Helen Gandy, Hoover’s life-long personal secretary, who kept all of his secret files on everyone from Presidents to Hollywood stars. Judy Dench plays his domineering mother, who makes it clear that she will not have a son that is a “daffodil”. Some other interesting appearances are Lea Thompson, Stephen Root, Josh Lucas, Dermot Mulroney and Jeffery Donovan as Robert Kennedy and Christopher Shyer as Nixon. And you what? Everybody is great.
I really liked this film. It’s a great biopic – the historical aspect is informative and at its’ core, it doesn’t really serve to bash, or to raise up, the reputation of J. Edgar Hoover. It shows us an imperfect man with his own issues. At its’ heart, this is a film about a relationship between Hoover and Tolson. This is easily four kittenhands. I suspect there may be some Oscar nominations for this one. I know it definitely makes me want to read a biography on J. Edgar Hoover. That’s a pretty good endorsement, if you ask me.
~ Neil T. Weakley, your average movie-goer, impressed with DiCaprio in this.