J. EDGAR (Clint Eastwood, 2011)
the biographical picture J. EDGAR director Clint Eastwood and
screenwriter Dustin Lance Black track the career of the longtime Federal
Bureau of Investigation director. Leonardo DiCaprio stars as J. Edgar
Hoover, a morally certain man who improved and expanded the once-Bureau
of Investigation’s ability to fight crime, although not without amassing
his share of detractors.
rose to the top in 1924, saw the agency become federal in 1935, and
stayed until his 1972 death. The legality of his methods, not to
mention his secret files, made him powerful and controversial.
by the head G-Man dictating his memoir, J. EDGAR has a lot of territory
to cover and does so swiftly. The Palmer raids, the Lindbergh baby
abduction, and the relentless pursuit of gangsters and political
subversives are tied together in a fleet, often exhilarating yarn of a
righteous man who will not rest until he has stamped out all criminal
and radical elements. Hoover is clear and authoritative when recounting
his accomplishments, yet J. EDGAR questions how reliable of a narrator
he is and at what cost such unyielding professional striving did to the
individual and the nation.
successful but petty and vindictive man at the center of J. EDGAR is as
much a mystery as what he kept in his confidential files. Eastwood and
Black give Hoover credit where it’s due, especially in the admiration
for his organizational rigor and faith in scientific evidence as a
valuable tool. The speculative private life they give him, in which he
and associate director Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer) share a closeted and
presumably unconsummated relationship, goes a long way in humanizing a
man who would ride roughshod over the livelihoods of his subordinates
and perceived enemies.
does marvelous work portraying a man who, frankly, seems like he would
have been unpleasant company, even to those long loyal to him. Hoover’s
magnetism derives from his intellect, certainty, power, and sense for
myth-making, and DiCaprio bears that out with a performance of a man who
himself may be constantly performing as though he has nothing to hide.
Hammer’s Tolson seems in awe of and puzzled by his friend and
co-worker. Hoover’s longtime secretary Helen Gandy (Naomi Watts)
demonstrates great respect and empathy even as she appears not to
understand this man she’s know for decades. Something must have earned
their dedication. That mystery is what encourages looking even closer
at this blank slate of a person.