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Movie Review

J. Edgar

MPAA Rating: R for brief strong language.

Reviewed by: Jeremy Landes
CONTRIBUTOR

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Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Adults
Genre:
Biography Drama
Length:
2 hr. 17 min.
Year of Release:
2011
USA Release:
November 9, 2011 (limited—7 theaters)
November 11, 2011 (wide—1,900+ theaters)
DVD: February 21, 2012
Copyright, Warner Bros. Pictures click photos to ENLARGE Copyright, Warner Bros. Pictures Copyright, Warner Bros. Pictures Copyright, Warner Bros. Pictures Copyright, Warner Bros. Pictures Copyright, Warner Bros. Pictures Copyright, Warner Bros. Pictures
Relevant Issues
Copyright, Warner Bros. Pictures

How accurate are the events depicted in this film? Did the book’s author and screenwriter have an agenda?

crime

power corrupts

lack of receiving or giving love

lies versus the truth

justice

secret private life

What about gays needs to change? Answer
It may not be what you think.

Read stories about those who have struggled with homosexuality

Featuring: Leonardo DiCaprioJ. Edgar Hoover
Naomi WattsHelen Gandy
Armie HammerClyde Tolson
Dermot MulroneyColonel Schwarzkopf
Ed Westwick … Agent Smith
Jeffrey Donovan … Robert F. Kennedy
Josh LucasCharles Lindbergh
Lea Thompson … Lela Rogers
Kaitlyn Dever … Palmer’s Daughter
Judi DenchAnne Marie Hoover
more »
Director: Clint Eastwood
Producer: Imagine Entertainment
Malpaso Productions
Wintergreen Productions
Clint Eastwoodproducer
Brian Grazerproducer
Ron Howardproducer
Robert Lorenz … producer
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures

“The most powerful man in the world”

Evil men with foreign agendas are threatening the U.S.A. They are planting bombs outside public officials’ homes, waging war on the government and provoking fear in the hearts of civilians. Local police seem ill-equipped to locate these enemies, so the federal government begins demanding more power to protect citizens from further terrorist incidents.

If the preceding sentences seem ripped from today’s headlines, then that’s a prime point of “J. Edgar,” a fictionalized biopic detailing the rise to power of a power-hungry tyrant from 1919 until his death in 1972. The filmmakers are illuminating forgotten chapters of America’s past dealings with radical Communists, because they want to draw a parallel with current government policies that, in their view, seek to avert terrorism threats by violating peoples” freedoms and privacy.

The character of J. Edgar Hoover, as portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio from age 24 to 77, remains largely the same kind of stubborn, self-righteous person, except in appearance, throughout the long film. The pace is brisk and never less than interesting from an historical viewpoint Hoover kept secret files about lots of famous politicians and movie stars, using these to his own advantage, whenever the occasion demanded it. The film allows us to follow a leader’s journey that’s spiraling down toward a lonely end—never really allowing himself to love nor be loved by anyone other than his domineering mother who seemingly sets the angry tone for his life.

Toward the middle of the film, Hoover and his longtime FBI associate, Clyde Tolson, seem to be moving toward a homosexual relationship, a subject of historical controversy. Director Clint Eastwood (Oscar® winner for “Unforgiven” and “Million Dollar Baby”) and the screenwriter Dustin Lance Black (Oscar® winner for “Milk”) choose not to imply that sex was happening between the men. Instead, they infer that Hoover continually repressed his love for Tolson, giving no one access into his heart and life. This is supposed to be the sad part of the film, as evidenced by Eastwood’s mournful piano playing in the background while DiCaprio cries alone in his room, wearing his mother’s clothing. Besides this adult theme, the film has been rated R because of some violence and some strong language used during a few parts of the film.

“J. Edgar” is a sad film to watch, but not because of Hoover’s repressed love for Tolson. The character is pitiful to watch as he becomes an incorrigible liar, a lawbreaker, and manipulator, judging and condemning others, while arrogantly telling exaggerated stories from his years of running the FBI. Though he achieved some legitimate success in modernizing criminal justice through the use of fingerprint identification, he’s constantly grasping for more glory based on false information. This is no role model.

DiCaprio’s performance as Hoover is an amazing transformation. The actor’s work enables you to actually sympathize with a man whom many considered a monster. Judi Dench plays Hoover’s mother and conveys a thirst to control her son’s career while, at the same time, obviously loving him and being proud of his achievements. Clint Eastwood has directed “J. Edgar” as a human drama full of close-ups where a person’s eyes are meant to communicate truth, even while their lips are saying something else. The film is in color, but it has been muted to have a silver look throughout much of the movie, giving the impression of an older era known by its black-and-white picture history.

“J. Edgar” is a serious movie designed to win some Oscars, rather than filling multiplexes full of entertainment-hungry masses. The audience for the film might be the kinds of people who went to see “Frost/Nixon” a few years ago—perhaps middle-aged men with a passion to learn more about what motivated historical figures like Hoover. “J. Edgar” may cause you discomfort watching a flawed man seizing power over this country’s law enforcement. It awakens a realization of how a country’s enemies can pave the way for a tyrant like Hoover to seize power over citizens in the name of protecting them, then using the power to maintain his position and feed others’ paranoia.

Violence: Heavy / Profanity: Moderate—“Jesus Christ,” “For G_d’s sakes,” f-word, “c_cks_cker (2) / Sex/Nudity: Moderate

See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.


Viewer CommentsSend your comments
Comments below:
Positive
Positive—Well done biopic about the person of J Edgar Hoover. Lots of information, well-paced action, fabulous acting by Leo DiCaprio. This is a general overview of the FBI director’s life, covering many years, with some explicit conjecture about his personal life. Other than the poor make-up of some of the characters as they aged, this is a good movie and worth seeing.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Average / Moviemaking quality: 4½
Halyna Barannik, age 65 (USA)
Positive—It came across as a decent account of the man. DiCaprio is fabulous. I also don’t think it overworked the homosexual aspect that has clouded Hoover. It’s hard to rate it from a Biblical worldview, because it is just trying to tell a story of actual events. So, it is what it is. My wife and I enjoyed the movie and recommend it to anyone who is curious about Hoover.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Average / Moviemaking quality: 4½
—Joe, age 63 (USA)
Neutral
Neutral—I thought the first two thirds of this movie were very interesting. Leonardo Dicaprio did an excellent job; I’m surprised he wasn’t nominated for an Oscar. The last part got a bit too sentimentally weird for me, though. I’m not a fan of the makeup they use to make people look older.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Average / Moviemaking quality: 4½
—Kadie Jo, age 19 (USA)
Neutral—This wasn’t a bad movie… For almost entire movie, I didn’t notice any profanity compared to many other movies, and I was pleased it did not. Agree make up artists did a poor job making them look older, but, overall, interesting movie from historical perspective.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Average / Moviemaking quality: 4
—James, age 44 (USA)
Negative
Negative—While Mr. Eastwood probably did his homework on J. Edgar Hoover, my husband and I thought that he took a little bit too much creative license in the area of the man’s private life. Though portrayed by Eastwood as a repressed homosexual, in reality there has not been any strong or definitive evidence that Mr. Hoover leaned in this direction. A man likes beautifully tailored suits, so he must be homosexual? That sounds like a stereotype. He does not flagrantly indulge in sexual escapades with women, so he must be gay. Another stereotype. And of course the most telling of all, he never marries.

It’s ironic that while today Hollywood thinks it is cool to be gay, bi-sexual, etc., and seemingly embraces all kinds of perversions, Eastwood uses the above canards as a method of debunking Hoover and his considerable accomplishments.

My husband was hoping for a “fair and balanced” rendition of the man’s life, but we certainly did not get what we were hoping for. We are well aware that there was a “dark side” to Hoover (for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God), but this movie’s attempt to portray the man’s private life bordered on the ridiculous. Hoover successfully protected the USA at a time when terrorists were trying to destroy it, and continued to protect and defend the country through the difficult Great Depression (all those hoodlums) and WWII (there were spies and terrorists around then, too).

It is a shame that films, with as much power that they possess to persuade and inform, cannot just tell the truth. Sorry, Clint, “J. Edgar” was not convincing; I even fell asleep a few times. Mr. Eastwood is a relativist, at best, and presents “his truth” as he sees it—which is not accurate at all. Don’t waste your money or your time!
My Ratings: Moral rating: Very Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 3
—Getta, age 60 (USA)
Negative—Avoid this film at all costs. The movie attempts to humanise and vindicate an individual who was delusional, self-seeking and power-hungry. The claim that J. Edgar Hoover somehow “transformed” the FBI into the scientific crime fighters they are today is ill-founded; forensic technology was improving all over the world, and it was inevitable that the United States would eventually catch up with the Brits, who had pioneered fingerprinting technology. Indeed, Hoover’s action’s often put the country in jeopardy. He relocated star agents who stole his spotlight (like Melvin Purvis, as the film shows) to career-ending assignments.

He was also soft on the mafia and initiated the illegal COINTELPRO program, which involved wrongful imprisonment and assassination of political figures, including Southern Christian Leadership Conference leaders.

Facts aside, this is an awful film from a technical standpoint. The screenplay is disjointed and delves too deeply into Hoover’s boring personal life. I would have liked to see more of Hoover’s battle with Martin Luther King Jr., especially after the MLK assassination. The fight against “radicals” and “Bolsheviks” was also fascinating, and would have been a good opportunity to explore First Amendment issues.

Overall, this is a film that fails completely to live up to its potential and, moreover, presents a fallacious view of J. Edgar Hoover.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Very Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 2
—Cornelius, age 23 (United Kingdom)
Movie Critics

“…Eastwood’s film takes much… care to deliver a measured character study of a very complicated man. His is a J. Edgar who doggedly pursues corruption and gives shape to modern forensics. Yet at the same time he’s a lonely, self-conscious man dominated by a possessive mother. He’s an iconic spotlight-stealer and a blackmailing villain. He’s simultaneously an unwavering patriot and a paranoiac racist. …”
—Bob Hoose, Plugged In

“……the entire production seems built on supposition rather than fact. I understand, it’s not a documentary, but why the character assassination of the formulator of the FBI? There are countless scenes in the movie are presumptuous, done in the incendiary style of Oliver Stone, that are private. No one would have had access to those moments, so they are simply made up for the film. … I don’t mean to defend J. Edgar Hoover, but every one of his achievements is undermined in this production. …There were rumors that he would don a dress and that he was homosexual, but the film is stating that as fact, when in reality, we don’t know. …”
—Phil Boatwright, Preview Family Movie and TV Review

“…the film efficiently condenses history… the tenderness of the love story in “J. Edgar” comes as a shock. … 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. …”
—Manohla Dargis, The New York Times

“…another left-wing attempt to spit on the grave of FBI founder and director J. Edgar Hoover. It’s a biased representation, written by a left-wing homosexual activist in Hollywood, of Hoover’s public and private life that obviously hasn’t done the true due diligence required for such a movie. It’s too bad that Clint Eastwood apparently fell for the left-wing smears against Hoover. …”
—Ted Baehr, Movieguide

“…DiCaprio may well receive a Best Actor Oscar… ambitious and absorbing… The film gives Hoover his due as a crime fighter… [3½/4]”
—Lou Lumenick, New York Post

“…a riveting, noble attempt by Eastwood… Eastwood, a moderate libertarian Republican, is sympathetic to Hoover… The resonating images of Hoover are of a man increasingly and tragically out of step with time. …”
—Jake Coyle, Associated Press

“…a dramatic essay about how the law and repression, heroism and corruption, fused in Hoover. … 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. … [B]”
—Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly

“…a nuanced portrait… While the FBI director is held accountable for his paranoia and megalomania, he’s also portrayed as a victim of his time and the cruelties of an overbearing mother. … [3/4]”
—Claudia Puig, USA Today

“…ultimately captivating. … Hammer is outstanding. Tolson is portrayed as obviously gay, and his affection for Hoover is touching, if a little hard to figure. … Eastwood leaves a lot to the audience to decide. Hoover remains a mystery, which is fine, but a little more guidance in navigating his life would have been helpful. … [3½/5]”
—Bill Goodykoontz, The Arizona Republic

“…Eastwood’s biopic sometimes gets lost in the scope of its story… 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. …”
—Ty Burr, The Boston Globe

“…played with great virtuosity by Leonardo DiCaprio… Scripted by Dustin Lance Black, who won an Oscar for his ‘Milk’ screenplay, J. Edgar obviously comes from a place that is interested in the conflicted lives of closeted gay men, yet, this rumored aspect of Hoover’s life is handled with the utmost tact and restraint. … [3½/5]”
—Marjorie Baumgarten, The Austin Chronicle

“…Anyone with strong opinions about founding FBI director J. Edgar Hoover is unlikely to come away satisfied by ‘J. Edgar,’ Clint Eastwood’s ambitious, ultimately deflating portrait, which somehow manages to elide his worst abuses of power while making a burlesque of his personal vulnerabilities. … [1½/4]”
—Ann Hornaday, The Washington Post

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