Reviews

J. Edgar

4

Profile of the legendary honcho of the Federal Bureau of Investigation

“Information is power,” states J. Edgar Hoover (Leonardo DiCaprio), legendary honcho of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the man who armed agents, catalogued criminals, initiated scientific crime-fighting (including fingerprinting), and who assembled private dossiers on anyone and everyone – including the eight Presidents he served – who might undermine his own position of, well, power.

But when it comes to Hoover’s private life, information is scarce. Director Clint Eastwood and screenwriter Dustin Lance Black (Milk) have made no secret of plugging gaps with educated guesstimates, and one of J. Edgar’s key themes is the prismatic nature of truth.

Unfurling in flashbacks (and flashbacks within flashbacks) as the septuagenarian director dictates his memoirs, Hoover emerges as an unreliable, self-promoting narrator, with the film spanning his induction into the US Justice Department in 1919 to his death in 1972.

The main focus is Hoover’s handling of the Bolshevik Bombings in 1919 and 1920 (the start of a lifelong crusade against communism), his involvement in the Lindbergh kidnapping in 1932 and his running battle with the superstar bank robbers of the Depression era.

The tumultuous ’60s (Kennedys, Civil Rights) receive limited screen time, while the ’40s (WW2) and ’50s (McCarthyism) don’t figure at all. Which is not necessarily a criticism.

Squeezing a 48-year career into two-and-aquarter hours, Eastwood selects from the political to make room for the personal. In fact, J. Edgar’s emphasis is how this innovative, exacting, stylish, magnetic, loyal, repressed, paranoid man was shaped by his mother (Judi Dench) and aided by two lifelong confidantes, secretary Helen Gandy (Naomi Watts) and protégé Clyde Tolson (The Social Network’s Armie Hammer).

The latter was Hoover’s great love – a relationship not consummated in the film but rather comprising soft-eyed glances and tender touches. As you’d expect from Eastwood, J. Edgar is a classically made biopic graced with potent performances that even poke through the exaggerated OAP make-up.

Considered with Clint’s westerns and 2006 WW2 diptych Flags Of Our Fathers/Letters From Iwo Jima, it again marks him out as an accomplished storyteller and a significant chronicler of American history.

Verdict:

Some will find it ponderous and pompous – it lacks the panache of Michael Mann’s epics, the momentum of Scorsese’s – but J. Edgar is a handsome, ambitious period drama full of modern-day parallels.

Film Details

User Reviews

    • FBEXanthopoul

      Jan 21st 2012, 16:07

      3

      www.unsungfilms.com, by Angeliki Coconi, Clint Eastwood is back, this time directing Leonardo DiCaprio in his American biographical drama based on the story of the FBI director J. Edgar Hoover. Written by Dustin Lance Black, the movie focuses on J. Edgar’s career from the Palmer Raids onwards, as well as his private life and close relationship with bureau deputy, Clyde Tolson. The movie was released in the USA in November 2011, and is expected in Europe, Africa and South America in February 2012. The story and J.Edgar’s character is approached by both the writer (also writer of Milk) and the director, from an unexpected angle, which makes the premise of this film highly promising. Through flashbacks, the movie examines the FBI director’s paranoia in an almost understanding and sympathetic kind of way, making excuses for him, after exploring the complicated relationships J. Edgar (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) shared with his manipulative mother, Annie (played by Judi Dench), his partner, Clyde Tolson (portrayed by Arnie Hammer), and his secretary Helen Gandy (played by Naomi Watts). Another magnificent performance for Leonardo Di Caprio’s résumé, but, what else is new? A number of memorable scenes of the starring actor are included in the movie, and the director really helps his lead shine – which DiCaprio would succeed in doing anyway. Arnie Hammer and Naomi Watts are also great in their roles and succeed in offering performances both impressive and subtle at the same time. Judi Dench is excellent and very convincing as a mother that would drive anyone paranoid. Dustin Lance Black has written a flawless script and Clint Eastwood has ultimately created a film that lies somewhere between liking and hating the long time FBI head. A hard-working, deeply moral and loyal man, who was however, extremely narrow-minded, overly suspicious and, in most cases, unreasonable. For those not wanting to judge, the film achieves the perfect medium. For those wanting to see the record set straight, and a blackmailing head cop’s name go down in history in shame, then the film is certainly too gentle and its ending almost feels like the writer chickened out. But even so, J. Edgar is worth watching for its different and original take on a biography, which makes the plot very interesting. Focusing a great deal on its subject’s repressed homosexuality, as well as its frustrating relationships with other people, the movie sort of lets a person that seems to have done a fair amount of terrible things, off the hook. For some, this is unacceptable. For others, it’s just a story seen from a different angle. In any case, the cast’s flawless performances, Eastwood’s direction and Black’s once again gay-friendly script, put J.Edgar quite high on the list in contending as one of the most anticipated films of 2012. Angeliki Coconi at www.unsungfilms.com

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    • GingerJim

      Jan 22nd 2012, 11:39

      5

      I would give this 5 stars despite my one reservation that an older actor should have portrayed the older Clyde Tolson as Arnie Hammer did not age well! Engrossing from beginning to end and not a minute too long and better than Clint's recent historical efforts (though there were nothing bad with these). I did not recognise this film from some of the reviews. Many critics are too young to concentrate on the time shifts or appreciate that the basis of the film mimics 'Who Shot Liberty Vallance' that if the story does not fit the legend then print the legend! DiCaprio was outstanding and has there been a better acting performance in 2011 ... of course not! Critics etc seem biased against Clint ... especially British Baftas - why was DiCaprio ignored? Fortunately the public retain an affection for him as their #2 favourite actor - hopefully something everybody will be able to celebrate later this year in the Robert Lorenz (Clint?) directed 'Trouble With The Curve'!

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