Reviewed by: Jeremy Landes
How accurate are the events depicted in this film? Did the book’s author and screenwriter have an agenda?
lack of receiving or giving love
secret private life
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|Featuring:||Leonardo DiCaprio … J. Edgar Hoover
Naomi Watts … Helen Gandy
Armie Hammer … Clyde Tolson
Dermot Mulroney … Colonel Schwarzkopf
Ed Westwick … Agent Smith
Jeffrey Donovan … Robert F. Kennedy
Josh Lucas … Charles Lindbergh
Adam Driver … Walter Lyle
Lea Thompson … Lela Rogers
Kaitlyn Dever … Palmer’s Daughter
Judi Dench … Anne Marie Hoover
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Clint Eastwood … producer
Brian Grazer … producer
Ron Howard … producer
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
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