Dir: Clint Eastwood, 2011
This, allegedly, biographical account of one of the most mysterious men in America, is a ragbag of sorts.
Leonardo DiCaprio stars as the titular character, both young and old. The flaws are evident from the very first scene.
Made up to resemble an aged J. Edgar Hoover, the prosthetics make him look like Phillip Seymour Hoffman. A problem that all films suffer from, when making a younger person appear old, is the lack of believability. This is no exception.
I’ve only ever heard snippets of Hoover talking, so I’m at a disadvantage when it comes to comparing the real McCoy to DiCaprio’s impersonation. However, my initial feeling was that the actor’s playing of the man was a tad exaggerated.
Eastwood’s film does not show a very nice human being. Certainly, selfish, rude, arrogant and bullying. Was he really like that? We’ll never really know. Hoover comes across as very secretive and paranoid, unable to trust anybody, except for a few, selected people and, even then, at arms length.
Distrusting and obsessive, J. Edgar had a colossal hatred toward communists. It was a mission to rid the United States of every single citizen that he felt to be undesirable.
Whether legal or illegal, the director of the FBI would stop at nothing to weed out the people he didn’t like. Hyprocritical, when you think that most of this methods bent a law or two, all in the name of catching lawbreakers!
His distrust of people was so great that he regularly wiretapped anybody he felt warranted it. And the president wasn’t excluded. Blackmailing his way through his tenure, Hoover could be seen as the first bent cop.
Protesting his love for his country, J. Edgar purports that everything he does is of the country’s best interest. Eastwood shows the man to be fame hungry and craves adulation from the American people and his superiors.
Lying his way through every aspect of his life and work, Hoover takes credit and praise for things he never did, like, arresting criminals.
The biggest question surrounding the man was his sexuality. It has long been speculated, that Hoover homosexual and, maybe, a transvestite.
Clint Eastwood glosses over this. There are hints dropped about his romantic involvement with his second in command, Clyde Tolson.
It’s hard to understand where the writer was going with this. As the director, Eastwood shows signs of affection between the duo, but stops short of, actually, showing any real physical intimacy.
For the film, Hoover is a confusing figure. On the one hand, he declares his love for Tolson but, on the other hand, pushes any physical affection away. Tolson is lambasted for kissing him.
The movie, definitely, leans heavily towards the head of the bureau being gay, or at least bisexual, and was intimate with his subordinate.
J. Edgar implies that a lot of his personal hangups are as a result of his overbearing mother, here, played by Dame Judi Dench, with an impeccable English accent(!). It’s clear, that Dame Judi has a distinct lack of ability for accents.
Being a time when homosexuality was frowned upon, it’s not surprising that Hoover was not forthcoming about his sexual preferences. With his position of power, being gay would have professional suicide. His mother saying that she’d “rather have a dead son than a daffodil son” couldn’t have helped, either.
But this is where everything becomes a rumour mill, churning out years old stories without anything solid to back it up. Where does the truth start and finish? Which are fabrication and hearsay? How do you decide which is which?
The film doesn’t, really, know where it’s going. It focuses, too much, on Edgar as the FBI man but not of the man himself. If it concentrated more on him as a person and his personal life, his struggle with his sexuality and demons, a much more fascinating film could have been had.
As a film, it’s okay. Definitely too long. But, as a biographical portrait, it fails.