Movie Review: J. Edgar
Length: 137 minutes
Release Date: November 11, 2011
Directed by: Clint Eastwood
Genre: Biography / Drama / Crime
Cast: Full cast and crew
Stars: 4 out of 5
Few characters in modern history are as bold, daring and controversial as J. Edgar Hoover. As head of the FBI, Hoover was accused of harassment, illegal activities and spying. Despite his methods, Hoover is credited with building the FBI and remained the bureau's director for more than 30 years. Until his death, he was strongly supported by Congress, and President Richard Nixon delivered a moving eulogy at his funeral.
This spirited, dedicated man is the subject of the film "J. Edgar." The script, by Dustin Lance Black, delves into the man behind the persona and seeks to reveal some of Hoover's deepest secrets. The film jumps back and forth in time, exploring Hoover's rise to fame, his personal life and his public facade. The writing is smart and subtle as it delves into the controversy and speculation that plagued Hoover during his time in the public eye. Audiences get to see the man behind the legend and develop an appreciation and understanding of Hoover as a man struggling with feelings, relationships and expectations.
The movie opens during the 1960s, toward the end of Hoover's complicated life. Old and weathered, Hoover recounts tales of his glory days to eager new agents, who look up to the crime-fighting giant. In flashback, the audience is taken to the 1919 bombing of A. Mitchell Palmer's home. Pivotal in young Hoover's life, this event helped shape him into an anti-radical who would become responsible for the deportation of hundreds of suspected extremists and radicals. There is also a glimpse into the paranoid mind of this respected man, as he begins keeping secret files on possible enemies.
"J. Edgar" is not the typical biopic that focuses solely on politics and historical reenactments. The film introduces Clyde Tolson, the deputy who was always at Hoover's side, as a young, handsome gay man with an obvious attraction to the rising star. It's here that the private side of Hoover is uncovered. There's a feeling of awkwardness and struggle as it becomes obvious that Hoover is also a gay man, a fact that he must keep secret. The film doesn't dance around the subject or try to hide the budding relationship between the two men. Instead, the movie dives in and explores the stark contrast between Hoover's private life and his very public admonishment of homosexuals, who he banned from the FBI.
Judi Dench portrays Hoover's mother, Annie, as a reserved and possessive woman with high expectations and pride in her son. Dench brings strength to this overbearing woman, who was a huge influence in Hoover's life. Dench is at her best in this film, and her performance is powerful, understated and real without seeming forced or strained. She becomes a mother Norman Bates would love.
Leonardo DiCaprio takes on one of the biggest roles of his career as J. Edgar Hoover. He plays Hoover as a young, enthusiastic man with great ideas and a self-promoting attitude and as an old, weathered man with a suspicious mind and too much power. It's DiCaprio's ability to completely transform into a character that makes him so fun to watch, and he showcases his immense talent and emotional depth in this film. He brings a softer side to the character and captures the essence of a man struggling to protect his country, please his mother and be true to himself. The chemistry between Dench and DiCaprio is pivotal to the film's success. During some emotional scenes, DiCaprio almost cowers in her presence, and the influence of this woman in Hoover's life is clear.
Clint Eastwood directs the film and brings out the best in each of the actors. He allows DiCaprio to make bold choices and restrains the actor when the performance could go over the top. Eastwood is thoughtful in his approach and is careful not to villainize Hoover or paint him in an unflattering light. Instead, he focuses on the man's character, passion and inner turmoil. It's Eastwood's ability to understand men, their motives, ambition and fears, that makes him such a successful director, and this film is another triumph for the star-turned-actor.
Those who think they know the story of J. Edgar Hoover will be pleasantly surprised by this film. With powerful performances, heartfelt moments and buried secrets, this film is sure to entertain audiences and provide insight into a complicated man, his thoughts and motives. Hoover, after all, was a son, a self-promoting salesman, a lover, a fighter and an innovator who shaped the FBI and worked diligently to keep his country safe.