Film Review: J. Edgar

Film review by Hal Goodtree.

Cary, NC – Want something to talk about with grown-ups this holiday season? Go see J. Edgar, the new redhot biopic about the head of the FBI, directed by Clint Eastwood.

Epic Span

First of all, J. Edgar will appeal to those who enjoy a film with epic span. This is not a movie that takes place over a long weekend.

J. Edgar inhabits a noir America that stretches from the Roaring Twenties to Richard Nixon. Bad stuff happens. Some of it, Hoover tries to prevent. Some of it, Hoover causes.

“It’s Complicated”

The plot of J. Edgar weaves two main threads – Hoover’s professional life, creating and building the FBI, and his personal life. His personal life is complicated.

Hoover builds his FBI into a tough, scientific, ruthless machine that battles anarchists, gangsters and communists. He berates Senators, intimidates Presidents and encourages a comic book cult around FBI G-Men.

But at home, Eastwood portrays Hoover as a Mama’s boy. He lives with his mother for her entire life.

Hoover’s relationship with the ladies is awkward. As G-Man numero uno, he meets plenty of glamorous and beautiful women. Eastwood focuses on Hoover’s discomfort with women – he flees from the table of Ginger Rogers because he is mortally afraid to dance.

Hoover is much more comfortable around his G-Man pal Clyde Tolson. Hoover and Tolson have lunch and dinner together everyday for almost 50 years. Eastwood gives them one strange kiss, but not much more on their strange relationship.

Leonardo DiCaprio as J. Edgar Hoover

Leonardo DiCaprio plays J. Edgar Hoover from a young man in 1919 to his death during Richard Nixon’s administration. If you like Leo, you’ll love the movie. He gets plenty of screen time and is a fine, serious actor.

DiCaprio creates a Hoover we do not like. But neither can we hate him. Pity is maybe a better word.

But to many people, Hoover was a monster. He was the uncontrollable, unaccountable black heart at the center of a national secret police force. Not just gangsters feared Hoover – Presidents, movie stars, college professors and civil rights leaders including Martin Luther King were all in Hoover’s crosshairs. He hounded the actor Charlie Chaplin from the United States in the 1950’s.

DiCaprio didn’t create a monster. Maybe he should have.

Armie Hammer plays Clyde Tolson as a somewhat dewey-eyed fashionista. Once again, this is perhaps a little off. The real Tolson, in photographs from the time, usually show a tough-guy, macho-man.

A Feast for the Eyes

J. Edgar is a beautiful, well-made film. A joy to watch on the big screen.

Telling a story that spans 50 years can be tough. Eastman uses a lot of flashbacks, but I was never confused about where we were in time. And I’m easily confused.

The editing, wardrobe, styling, props and cinematography are all superb.

A Movie for Grown Ups

If you like serious films, go see J. Edgar. Clint Eastwood is a masterful filmmaker and Leonardo DiCaprio one of the best actors of his generation. One might say it’s a “must see” movie for serious film buffs. It will certainly be on the Academy short list.

But ask yourself, over cocktails with your well-educated neighbors, was it just a little bit of a triumph of style over substance? Was Hoover in fact a monster? And, if so, why didn’t we see that guy in the movie?

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